Black Santa Tradition Continues Thriving in South Seattle, Central District

by Susan Fried (words and photos)

The tradition of mirthful children sitting on Santa Claus’s lap for pictures started at the Frederick and Nelson’s downtown Seattle department store in the 1940s. 75 years later, the practice is now so ubiquitous, you can’t throw a rock during the holidays without hitting someone dressed as Jolly Saint Nick.

Once just as common was the sole depiction of Santa as a white chubby male, dressed in a red suit and hat. But recent decades have brought diversity to Mr. Claus.  There are now even apps to help parents looking for racially diverse Santa’s including one called, Find Black Santa.

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Santa Jonathan undergoes a transformation before starting duty at Jeffrey Taylor’s State Farm Insurance in Columbia City.

It’s a far cry from a generation ago when parents were lucky to find one Black Santa at Nordstrom’s for a few select days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. When they did, lines were usually long and photos were usually expensive.

Today, Black Santas are a regular feature of holiday events in the Central District and South Seattle held at the Northwest African American Museum, The Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, and the Royal Esquire Club.

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Santa Jonathan takes one last look at himself before heading to meet with kids at the Jeffery Taylor’s State Farm in Columbia City.

This year, some families traveled from as far as Tacoma to be photographed with a Black Santa. One family visiting the Langston Hughes last weekend may have best summed up the value of the experience in a letter they wrote to Santa:

“Thank you for representing me. It matters.”

Jeffrey Taylor State Farm in Columbia City

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Northwest African American Museum

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Royal Esquire Club

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Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute

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