When Gabriel Quesada was growing up in Seattle’s Rainier Beach neighborhood, his uncles told him they knew Santa.
But every Santa he saw was white, and his uncles were black.
"It just didn't make sense to me," Quesada said.
Quesada, now a grown up, is one of Seattle’s few black Santas. He got this gig when his friend Keenan Hart, a photographer, wanted to offer kids a chance to get a photo with black Santa. Hart asked him to don a red suit.
“Santa doesn’t have to be white with rosy cheeks," Hart said. "We wanted something our people could relate to.”
This is the fifth year Hart has hosted an event featuring a black Santa.
On a recent Saturday, Quesada waved to parents and children at the Northwest African American Museum.
“Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas,” he called out.
Quesada said it’s been liberating to see how kids react.
“Their minds are blown," he said. "You’ll hear it, literally, out their mouths: 'Black Santa! Black Santa!' And it seems like they’re not so afraid."
Ingrid Bell, who is black, said she brought her granddaughter because, "We want her to know it’s OK that she looks different.”
Amy McCormick, who is white, said she brought her African-American son because, “You need to be in a community that reflects who you are, to build confidence and know your place in the world.”
The children have their own agenda. Young Addy Davidson said, "I'm gonna ask Santa to give me a remote control robot."
Quesada said he believes he’s removing barriers for kids of all kinds, not just black, but every color.
“I don’t want to say it’s bigger than Santa, but if there’s a colored Santa, there can be a colored anybody," he said. "We got a colored president now."
Seeing people who have your same skin color is important, he said.
When he was a kid, he loved Christmas but didn’t like sitting on Santa’s lap.
“My mom would be like, ‘Take a picture with Santa,’ and I’d be, 'No, I’m fine,'" Quesada recalled. "It wasn’t so much that the skin color made me feel uncomfortable, I just never saw one that looked anything similar to me.”
He was also skeptical.
"If there ain’t different-colored Santas,” he thought back then, “there ain’t no Santa.”
He still remembers the impact of that conclusion. "It makes you feel like you’re not a – I don’t want to say you’re not a human being, but you’re not part of the crowd," he said.
Photographer Hart said he hopes to expand the program to include Santas of other minority groups.
Having many different Santas is helpful, too, in that it resolves a major problem with the traditional Santa story: How can a single man, however magical, deliver all those presents in one night? Even the kids are skeptical.
Which means there’s only one solution to this logistical incongruity: There must be lots and lots of Santas. And not all of them are white.
Black Santa's engagement at the Northwest African American Museum is over. But he'll be at From Bottom 2 Top Photography, 901 Occidental Ave S., across the street from CenturyLink Field, noon to 8 p.m., Dec. 17-24. Phone: (206) 915-6431.
There are also multicultural Santas at Nordstrom's in downtown Seattle but only at specific times. Phone: (206) 628-1000.