Santa and Rosa Parks

This post has been cogitating in my head for quite sometime. I know it will be misinterpreted by many and that I am opening myself up for vilification of the meanest sort. My intention is to provoke serious thought. The event that sparked my own self-examination was MCV and Mood Ring Momma’s recounting of their annual trip to the Nordstrom flagship store in downtown Seattle for my nephews’ annual photo with Santa. MCV was surprised to see that Santa, this year, was African-American. But only the seven year old noticed and said, “That’s not the real Santa. That’s his helper.*” Why was this Santa hired? Was Nordstrom making a statement? Maybe African-American Santa was hired because he was the only one who could legally say “Ho Ho Ho? Perhaps this gentleman just really wanted the job.

Mr. Understanding and I discussed this with Princess Ai Lin and Mr. Nuts and Bolts at our first ever annual Christmas Party for Four which started at the Shangri-la hotel and then proceeded to the St. Regis. Would it be okay, we wondered, to cast Kate Hudson as a young Rosa Parks if a movie were made? How about Denzel Washington as George Bush? Would there be an uproar? Is skin color important to authenticity? What about attire? Well, that depends. Many people will tell you that they did not buy Angelina Jolie’s rendition of Marianne Pearl, notwithstanding their close personal friendship, in the film “A Mighty Heart”. But that doesn’t really answer the question about Santa.

This was still on my mind when Thing 3 and I attended the Catholic church with our neighbors Sunday morning to check it out. I had been hesitant to do this before since we would have to remain seated during communion, a hard thing to explain to a Protestant nine year old. I do not want my children scarred by exclusion from the Catholic communion club. But whatever. Since many of my Catholic friends have been to my churches over the years, I thought I would not let a little thing like the theory of transubstantiation get in the way of church attendance, especially since it was sure not to include a surfeit of hand waving. Besides, it is no secret that I am a fan of all trappings Catholic** (love those gold medallions! the mitered corners on the Bishops hats! the rosaries!) and my name leads many, falsely, to this conclusion.

A few pews ahead of us sat an African-American family. I recognize them from the soccer pitch. They make the Obamas look like they come from a poor gene pool. The mother is stunning. The father likes to wear a cream colored sweater with a big crimson H on it that I take to mean he attended Hah-vahd. Their eldest son, well-behaved in church, routinely grabs my son’s soccer jersey on the soccer field, sometimes resulting in penalties. My son is routinely outraged at the behavior. It is against the rules, Thing 2 says.

I thought about all this as I channeled Rosa herself and a smidge of her philosophy of Quiet Strength in church while I sat in my pew as others, including the Gorgeous Family, filed around me to receive communion. Out of respect for the Catholic faith, Thing 3 and I remained quietly seated even though we really wanted that wafer. We could have gone up to receive a blessing but that seemed a little false, like we would be conning the congregation. Justice was not at stake, just my pride.

We went back to the Catholic church for Christmas Eve service with the entire family and our visitor, Ms. Duke, who is Thing 1’s godmother. I whispered in my husband’s ear the amount he should put in the offering plate. After the priest went through an extensive warning to the pagans and Protestants in the crowd about not receiving communion if one was not a confirmed Catholic, Mr. Understanding whispered back in my ear, “That settles it. I’m reducing the amount in half and giving the other portion to the hand waving church. I’ll take hand waving over no communion any day. ” My church dilemma was resolved just like that.

Inclusion v. Exclusion? Authenticity v. Convenience/Political Correctness? Following the Rules v. Fighting for Justice? Truth v. Hypocrisy? In the club or out of the club? Naughty or nice? Where and when do we draw the line and do we have to? My father once told me that the only way, and I am paraphrasing here, to attain world peace is through cross-cultural intermarriage, which will eventually end tribalism (but not sibling rivalry). If St. Nicholas, the historical person on whom the character of Santa is based, is Turkish, he most definitely did not have lily white skin. Jesus himself probably had a Mediterranean skin tone and a less than dainty schnoz. So, in the end, a black Santa is okay by me just as long as he plays the part well. It’s even better if his name is Don Cheadle and I can sit on his lap and give him my wish list for 2008.

*To be honest, he actually used a different, very high brow word that would for sure be misinterpreted and I am not going to expose the seven year old to yellow press at such a tender age.

** Thanks to Maria the Dentist for my package with the booklets and the Infant Jesus of Prague statuette!!! It arrived today!

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “Santa and Rosa Parks

  1. maria

    Dear Princess;
    I am glad the package arrived,but I would prefer it was in your hands by 25/12.Anyway it seems normal 8 days from Brazil to China;specially at Cristhmas time….
    About Santa´s colour I would say I d´ont have an opinion by now….I will think about but maybe it´s just for” marketing” pourposes.
    About your Catholic experience….Tell thing 3 that even my Matheus ,raised as a catholic since baptism, can not have communion since he didn´t finish his 2 years studies at church(but they give small normal breads for kids in some churches).It´s more about learning about the meaning of communion than anything….But maybe you can ask my brother and he will explain much better since he is “almost “a beato now…

  2. Tom

    I was an alter boy until I was 18 and I can tell you lots of stories about Communion. I would get the wafer stuck to the roof of my mouth and would pretend I had swallowed it until I could scrape it off when no one was looking. I am definitely going to burn in the flames of Hell.

  3. Flaky Friend

    Your feelings about not being allowed communion in a Catholic church are very common. However, I still don’t understand why it is such a big deal to non-Catholics and, if it is, why they attend mass at all. It seems that the way to avoid this is to go to a church where you are welcome to take communion or, since this is not an exclusive club, to become a Catholic. When I got married I did that so we could have a full mass. Before my first communion, however, I did not feel excluded but received a blessing during communion. Anyway, if I sound a little defensive, it’s maybe because Catholics seem to be always under the microscope – i.e. the movement to accept Latin mass is some sinister sign of regression — a Jewish friend asked me what I thought of the Latin mass decision and I asked her what language she worshipped in – hebrew.

    Anyway, I’m just not that sympathetic to your experience of wanting the wafer since you could have gone elsewhere to get one. Also, going up to the altar to receive a blessing is quite common and certainly not a con of the congregation.

    Best to you and yours and Happy New Year.

    FF

  4. expat princess

    Maria: I know that your brother could explain to me, chapter and verse, the ins and outs of the Catholic eucharist when and if I ever meet him. Thank you for also sending me the calendar made by Phyllis – I was so excited to have one for 2008. I dig the verse too and you couldn’t have selected a better scene!

    Tom: What? OK, that is for sure one part of the wafer consumption I did not know about! Enlighten please! Do you think Jesus feels the same way about peanut butter getting stuck?

    FF: Ah, my dear, dear friend. Thanks for your insights! The fact is that there are only 2 churches here in the PRC and I should be grateful to attend either one of them, wafer or no. As an Episcopalian, the Catholics are the closest game in town and the wafer is, in fact, not a universal, weekly feature of the hand waving church service. To my knowledge, the Episcopalians and the Catholics are the only two churches that observe the eucharist weekly. But I’ll get over it.

  5. The wafer situation is problematic. When I have gone to a Benedictine cloister for a retreat with Episcopalians, the officiating Father would not let us take the wafer. The young nuns were very embarrassed, and one said the nuns pray constantly that we will be included.

    Going without communion, if it is part of your worship service, is very hard. For me, going without it, does not make the grade. Particularly on major feast days, and weddings, and funerals too. I like the ritual, the lessons and readings, which are, in fact, the same weekly for most the major Christian religions. The liturgy is very similar in the Catholic and Episcopal church: readings, Nicene Creed, Confession of faith. We attend mass in a Catholic church because “where 2 or 3 are gathered” , we find Christ.

    I personally do not know one person who is criticizing the Catholic faith. As we know the Episcopal Church stole the liturgy from the Catholics. In fact, I feel that all Christians and Jews are in this tough world together. This would also include the Mormons.

  6. Flaky Friend

    Ok Radish and Expat I understand better. I think I was using your post as a forum for venting my frustration at Catholic bashing and I know that you were not doing that. I for one have no problem opening communion to anyone who has had the teachings and knows what it means. Happy New Year!

  7. Radish: you were downright articulate!

    FF: yes, not Catholic bashing! I just want to be invited to the party!

  8. gamamãe

    My brother and I refer to it as the cookie, and always questioned if the priest got a better one
    ( for sure!) and why did he get somethign to wash it down with??? I gave in and had to unstick it from the roof of my mouth but wasn´t so much worried if God would disapprove or flames would consume me ,as much as if my mother caught me picking my teeth and mouth in public!

  9. expat princess

    Gamarama: I thought Brazilians always carried toothpicks in their pockets!

  10. gamamãe

    Hence my fear of being caught without one!!!! Plus, ,no matter how you try to cover up – it most certainly is not a ladylike action. Thanks for the bday wishes for Mr. Hah-vad and his sibling separated at birth.

  11. maria

    Princess…we always have some dental floss….toothpicks is so old fashion!
    Just got back from your country and I think this trip could be perfect if we could meet in Florida someday…
    Happy to know you liked Hong Kong,Keep the adresses …I will need when I visit you in China;ok?

  12. expat princess

    Maria,
    You would know! I keep some dental floss in my purse at all times. Glad you had a great time in the Land of Plenty!

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