Christmas is coming early for progressives this year, and it’s coming with a sense of humor.
Santa’s Husband, out in bookstores this fall, offers an unusual take on the holiday’s central representative. In this fresh reinvention, Late Show with Stephen Colbert writer Daniel Kibblesmith renders Santa as a black, gay man in an interracial relationship with a white Mr. Claus. Among other selling points for its existence, the book is sure to spur some heated cable news conversations about why exactly we hold our national beliefs about Santa–in essence, the mascot of Christmas–so, well, religiously.
Like many other hallowed projects before it, this one started off as a joke.
After observing the online uproar about Minneapolis’ Mall of America hiring a black Santa, Kibblesmith tweeted about a facetious child-rearing decision he and his fiancé, author Jennifer Wright, had just made: Their hypothetical baby would only know a black Santa, and this one wouldn’t be straight, either.
Me & @JenAshleyWright have decided our future child will only know about Black Santa. If they see a white one we'll say "That's his husband"
— Daniel "Kibblesmith" (@kibblesmith) December 3, 2016
The ensuing rapturous retweets convinced Kibblesmith the idea could be something more. It inspired the writer, who pens books and graphic novels when he’s not on the Colbert clock, to try out a children’s book. Artist A.P. Quach quickly came on board, and so did Harper Design. Suddenly, it looked as though the venting of Kibblesmith’s annoyance might go on to have more impact than the source of annoyance itself.
“The part that bothered me most was that the outrage seemed so disproportionate and out of line with reality,” he says of the original reaction to a nonwhite mall Santa. “The Mall of America had introduced one black Santa. And every appointment to come see him was booked by families who couldn’t have been happier.”
It’s a familiar problem that could fall into the larger bucket of the so-called War on Christmas. Every December, a chorus of conservative pundits (often led by Bill O’Reilly, who will not be around on Fox News to bloviate about this book) polices the way America celebrates Christmas. They get apoplectic about those who say “Happy holidays,” a sticking point that forced candidate Donald Trump into the adorably childlike campaign promise of “saying Merry Christmas a lot more.” (He might as well have sworn to outlaw anchovies on pizza.) The reception of the Mall of America Santa among Breitbartians was in keeping with these rigid standards.
“This book is just as much a reaction to the infamous Fox News conversation where Megyn Kelly turns to the kids at home, Mr. Rogers-style, and tell them that Santa Claus is white,” the author says. “But these big lightning rod incidents are just the most memorable examples of a general Us vs. Them political tension around Christmas every year.”
A sizable portion of America seems to spend their Decembers living out the classic Charlie Brown special in real-time–except instead of the commercialization of Christmas, they’re mad that other religions exist. But making sacred the depiction of Santa Claus as a white, jolly, fat man in a red suit has to be the most confounding aspect of all. It was a tradition that began in America in the late-1800s and has little to do with the Saint Nicholas of ancient myth. Of course, there might be just as big an outrage in certain circles if Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer came out as gay, or was given a racial rebooting.
“I think anything associated with Christmas is always a little sacred, or at least has a lot of strong emotional attachment,” Kibblesmith says. “When things become traditions in our lives, it’s hard to imagine that they weren’t always this immutable thing, handed down unchanged from the days of yore — when actually, they’re evolving all the time and vary wildly even from household to household. For instance, I just learned that Elf On The Shelf has only been around for about 10 years. But there are some kids who’ve never known a Christmas without that tradition.”
— Daniel "Kibblesmith" (@kibblesmith) March 28, 2017
For some kids, though, the new tradition may just end up being a gay, black Santa. Although the response so far to Santa’s Husband has been polarizing—Kibblesmith’s Twitter mentions are a mess—the book has elicited early praise from parenting blogs and LGBTQ press, perhaps enough to secure a place for its characters in children’s bookshelves for years to come. What could be a more fitting retort to those whose unwaveringly rigid idea of Santa Claus leaves others feeling left out?
The writer may have tweeted initially just to thumb his nose at those offended by a black Santa, but the book his tweet led to is mostly an attempt to be as inclusive as possible. With maybe a little nose-thumbing.
“I think if you promote tolerance, you’ll always raise the ire of intolerant people,” Kibblesmith says. “I write comedy for a politically-focused late night talk show, but I’m also just a human in America in 2017. So I don’t think of it as ‘trolling,’ as much as ‘being yourself.’ Isn’t that the lesson of most children’s books?