Fox News Channel anchor and host of "The Kelly File" Megyn Kelly took a dive into a steaming cauldron of hot water this week when she blatantly stated that Jesus and Santa were both white entities, noting that there was no reason to alter tradition just because some might be uncomfortable with the idea that the two symbolic icons were white. She decided to double down the day after and proclaimed that those who didn't agree with her had ginned up the debate through "race-baiting" and were "humorless." And the debate raged on...
As CNN reported on Dec. 13, after Kelly said it was "ridiculous" to say that claiming Santa was white was "racist," the debate on Jesus and Santa being white (or any other race) has been an ongoing tradition for quite some time. In fact, it wasn't until the late 1800s and early 1900s that the debate over Jesus' white-ness became an issue in America, because prior to that most people simply accepted him as a Jewish messiah figure born in the Middle East of a Jewish-Israeli family. But in an effort to distance themselves from being associated with Jews (a common social custom prior to the Second World War), many, spear-headed by authority figures in politics, religion, and business began to assert the "white man" status of Jesus.
Be that as it may, Megyn Kelly was simply wrong in her pronouncement, whether she was doing it "tongue-in-cheek" or wholeheartedly. Jesus Christ, for those who believe he existed (because there those who doubt the man actually existed), was not and can never be considered, at least from all the writings extant concerning the man himself, a white person, unless one considers "white" to be anyone under the umbrella of the Caucasian race. He was born of Jewish parents in Judaea and, like almost all others born in the region claiming Israeli heritage, was of Semitic ethnicity, a group that includes Arabs and Near Eastern peoples originally indigenous to the Fertile Crescent in Mesopotamia. Though Caucasoid by definition, the peoples of the region were not and have never been what are generally considered white people, i. e. peoples that hale from Europe, Scandinavia, and western Asia.
Needless to say, the peoples were not "white" by most standards, especially "traditional" ones.
To be clear, Kelly said Wednesday night, concerning the Slate piece by Aisha Harris that suggested Santa didn't necessarily have to be a white man anymore: "Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change. Jesus was a white man, too. It's like we have, he's a historical figure; that's a verifiable fact. As is Santa, I just want kids to know that. How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy, in the story, and change Santa from white to black?"
Kelly told her audience the next day: "I realize that the piece by [Aisha] Harris which went on to argue that Santa should be a penguin was also tongue in cheek. That's in part why we covered the story in the first place. Humor is part of what we try to bring to the show. Sometimes that's lost on the humorless."
Someone stating the opposite opinion of Megyn Kelly's misinformed one does not make them a race-baiter, either, no matter what she says. Nor does it make them humorless in that they took her words at face value, her tongue's position notwithstanding. It's just a difference of opinion, and a seemingly better educated opinion as well. And if the story has been "revise[d]... in the middle of the legacy," it seems that that is by no means a modern event -- morphing Jesus white occurred over a century ago in the U. S. and, if old paintings and depictions are any indication, perhaps as much as a millennia ago in much of Europe.
As for Kelly's assertion that Santa Claus was/is white, that is debatable, too, depending upon one's frame of reference. If one takes Father Christmas/St. Nicholas man-myth that has developed over the years that borrowed from both the real and mythologized European entities, then there is little doubt that Santa Claus is a modern construct of a white man. If one goes back to the origins of St. Nicholas, it would appear he is an amalgam of two men named Nicholas. The first, a second century bishop that destroyed pagan temples, came from Myra in ancient Greece, a place now called Demre in Turkey. The second, Nicholas of Sion, a Christian priest who told the story of St. Nicholas, the martyr. Historians, according to CNN, believe stories of the two were conflated over the centuries.
Peoples of that area tend to sometimes have a higher melanin content in their skin, much like Arabs and Judaeans, Persians, Moors, Berbers, Italians, and many other ethnic groups, both modern and historic. But that does not disqualify them as Caucasian, although it might, depending on the "traditional" meaning of "white" people, disqualify them as white. So was the original St. Nicholas (or his successor) a white man? Perhaps.
But Megyn Kelly assured children that Santa Claus was white. And Santa Claus is a fictional construct that hangs around with elves, flies around with reindeer, and can fit his overweight self into any sized chimney. And most renderings of that particular being does seem to be white. And changing the "legacy" of a fictional construct is done all the time. In fact, Walt Disney and company has made considerable profit doing so. So does it really matter what skin color a man-myth-fictional character actually has? Does it matter if he's black or white or any other coloration?
Perhaps Megyn Kelly's defense of Santa Claus and Jesus stems from ignorance and Fox News' constant need to generate the false narrative of a generalized war on the Christmas tradition. Perhaps it stems from some need to establish Jesus and/or Santa as a member of America's dominant race, regardless of true tradition or history. Who knows?
Two things are certain, however: One is that the one that seemed most uncomfortable about the idea of a black Santa or a non-white Jesus was Megyn Kelly herself.
And, second: As CNN pointed out, if you're going to introduce the subject of race into conversations about Jesus and Santa, expect a debate (most likely ill-informed on both sides). Or a fight.
Don't expect a lot of humor.