Is Santa Irish?

I have just been catching up on the important questions that roil the American media. I can’t deny that they go to the core of our civilization. A black lady is upset that Santa and Jesus don't look like her, and a white lady—a very blonde white lady—rushes to say: “Yes!! White! Peaches ’n’ Cream white! White and nothing but white! What’s wrong with that?” I feel their pain.

When I was a young Irish lad, looking at the pictures of Santa wounded me each Christmas. He did not look like my people. His countenance that of a man of Germanic stock. "Why not a Celtic Santa?" I asked, as I wept into my Christmas stocking—a stocking that would be filled on Christmas morning with a potato, if I had been good, or a rotten potato, if I had been bad. Why, O why, did the Dutch get to give Santa not only his name, but his looks, too? And why was Black Pete still working for that old honky?

But as the years went by, I learned that Christmas was not about Santa. It was about Jesus. People showed me pictures of him, too. He was also sometimes Germanic, but more often Italian. He was never Irish: his hair was never red, like our Irish friends, or snow white, like the pates of every male relation of mine over 27. Besides, it had clearly been styled with more “product” than any Irishman has ever wasted good Guinness money on. Was my savior really a guy from the former Holy Roman Empire? How could he care about a Gael?

While in this state of dejection—all caused by the continental chaps dressed up as Santa and Jesus—I sat myself down to read the Lives of Saints. It turned out that St. Nicholas was not Dutch! He was Greek. He lived in Turkey. He’d never even had a Coca-Cola, much less appeared in one of their commercials. Now I know the Greeks count as white people, but if you stand one up next to Heidi Klum, you’ll wonder if they are in the same species, let alone race. They are the olive-toned cousins of us pasty people!

Then I learned a little more about Jesus. Sure, the man was a Jew! And his mother was, too, so even the rabbis couldn’t tell you otherwise! Why, it made me think about James Joyce—and that always makes my head hurt from confusion until I remember the funny bits and start laughing. He talks about a fellow named Shem the Penman who has a brother named Shaun the Postman. I think they’re brothers, but Shem is Hebrew, Greek, and Irish, while Shaun is Egyptian, Roman, and English, so maybe they’re not related at all, at all. Shem is a prophet and always ends up drinking hemlock, or getting crucified, or starving in a potato feminine, while Shaun builds pyramids and paves roads and makes the seas safe for commerce and in general builds great empires while seeing to it that Shem does most of the work and only gets a potato, a stuffed grape leaf, and some bitter herbs for his trouble.

So there you are. Shaun’s paid for the pictures of St. Nick and our Lord and Savior, though I’m sure he had Shem do the painting. If you see either one of them looking like a fat old Dutchman or a fellow fresh from the hairstylist, you’ll know you being told Shaun's fairy stories, not the truth. And how would Shem depict the holy skin tones, if he didn’t need to please the old Shaun? Well, I’ve known blue-eyed Jews, and vitiligo can affect the whole body, so you can make them look Irish or German if you want to. My own bet would be that St. Nicholas would be a dead ringer for any stern but generous old guy in Athens today. And Jesus? If you want the right model, you’ll find him in Hebron or Nablus. Remember that in his day both carpentry and preaching were outdoor work, so he’ll have a good tan. (We will leave all thought of any ancestral connections Jesus might have had with the Jews of Ethiopia for another time.)

And to those ladies who got so upset over whether Santa looked like them, all I can say is, people are unhappy enough: don’t start them arguing about how the saints and savior parted their hair. And, whatever he looks like, Jesus loves you. But if I were you I wouldn’t be counting on a visit from St. Nicholas this year.