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Santa Narratives & Origin Stories
[Image: Illustration from ‘Santa’s Husband’ by Daniel Kibblesmith & A.P. Quach. Santa, a Black man with a grey beard and gray hair, lovingly smooches his smiling husband, Mr.Claus, a white man who also has a gray hair and beard.]
As an early Christmas present, I’m making one of my private book lists temporarily available for public view for a limited time.
- You want Santa the black sheep of the family?
- You want a Gay Black Santa?
- You want a Santa raised by supportive, kind, and adipositive parents?
- You want your kids to be critical thinkers who take on the responsibility of radical generosity themselves?
- You want my unfiltered notes full of salty language, references to Santa-porn, and spots where I completely draw a blank on basic words in the English language?
Check it out NOW, because this list goes back to private access for Collaborator+ Patreons only very soon.
For families doing the whole Santa Claus thing
Quick Things You Need To Know:
- For the rest of December, I’m unlocking this booklist for the public. We here at Bumblebee Hollow celebrate Christmas – this is our weird and ridiculous gift to you. Happy holidays.
- Click here to see the Christmas unpolished booklist – this booklist includes books with a Santa (not all of them), but Santa isn’t the main character so much as an accessory to the plot.
- We don’t lie (we don’t ever lie) about Santa existing, and we do dual-duty, explaining that anyone can be a Santa – someone who gives generously and anonymously without any expectation of reciprocation.
- But I do read books in which Santa exists. We don’t actively negate the Earthquakes’ theories about Santa, but I read the books as a skeptic, and Q usually takes the role of explaining to me why the story is plausible.
- By reading conflicting stories on who Santa is and where s/he comes from, the Earthquakes are challenged to think critically about which stories feel true to them, which sound suspicious, and understand that all stories have bits of truth, bias, and fallacy.
- These will be centered on a secular (no mention of organized religion/Christianity) northeast/midwest (snowy) US-based Christmas unless otherwise mentioned.
- Unless otherwise noted, Santa will be the mainstream depiction of male-presenting, white, fat, and old.
- This is a ridiculously frivolous thing to focus on right now, but I’m sorting my list to request our favorite Christmas books and hey, why not list them here while I’m at it. I have a soft spot for Santa origin stories.Or rather – there are sooooo many of them, we were bound to find a few good ones. It’s impossible to pick just one.
- This list gives us feminine and BISOC (Black & Indigenous Santas of color) alternatives to white men as the default. However – as we move deeper into research on healthy masculinity through 2019-2020, I’m kind of loving depictions of Santa as a kind white guy. Like, I know traditionally White male characters have dominated kidlit as dudes of benevolent agency, but over the last few years, it’s hard to find ANY good books that feature a decent white dude – all the great authors are using more feminine characters of color. For families like ours who read about white men rarely or never, this one time of year, I’m surprised how happy I am to have a model of healthy masculinity. So all the white santas below are wonderful models of kindness, humility, and generosity. A white dude who knows how to use his privilege to boost others. I can get behind that.
- However – it still makes me itchy to see Santa portrayed as all-knowing, wise and almost tricksterish as a white man. I don’t like that message that White Dude Santa knows best, so you should just go along with what he says or the path he tricks you into. That’s a gateway story into ignorant obedience.
- Last updated 12/19/19
Quick & Messy Book List: CHOOSE YOUR SANTA
Santa is a confident, kind kid raised by body-positive, accepting parents: When Santa Was A Baby
The Earthquakes LOVED this. illustrations are cute and adorable, have a vintage Disney feel perfect for Xmas. Santa’s parents are accepting and happy with who he is.
Q particularly liked that he had a big booming voice even as a baby, (I read baby santa’s voice with a deep booming voice) he found it HILARIOUS. Some of the funny jokes, Q actually got at 5.5 – “What a lovely time Santa had opening his presents! He had an even lovelier time wrapping them up again and putting them in a sack.” At 4.5 & 6.5, both Earthquakes still laugh uproariously at this and reference the book weeks after Christmas.
I particularly love that little santa feels like R2 – with the way he regifts everything and is super generous and portly. I love that his parents accept him as he is, even though he won’t wear blue pajamas, stands in front of the fridge all day, and is a weirdo. “When Santa became a teenager, he continued to be unusual. He knew his own mind. He didn’t always fit in with the crowd. But his parents thought he was wonderful.”
Ages 4+ body acceptance & adipositivity, misfits, silly, unconditional love, origin story, healthy masculinity
Santa is a gay Black man: Santa’s Husband
This is the cutest. Definitely a must-read every Christmas, although the lack of story makes it less appealing for younger kids (aim for 4+, or even 5+, it was a big hit for Christmas when the Earthquakes hit 4.5 & 6.5 ). Cute, goofy, funny, and even explains why white santa is so prevalent in mainstream media. Fun for adults to read. 2-star reviewer on Amazon pointed out it’s tokenizing – which, yes. It is. Because pretty much everything having to do with Santa is frivolous and shallow. So I’m keeping an ear out from the gay Black bear population, but I suspect tokenism in such a silly book isn’t going to big a big deal.
Keywords: LGBTQ+ (gay marriage)
Santa is the black sheep of the family: Little Santa
Santa is a kid – loves living in the north pole and everything about it, but his family hates it. How he ended up meeting reindeer and elves and it’s a silly, cute story. The offbeat humor is very Agee-ish (one of Q’s favorite authors, but an acquired taste) 2+ santa origin story, pretty cute. We liked it from 3.5+, and R2 is particularly fond of the silly impracticality of it at 4.5. Although after we found When Santa Was A Baby, this seemed to pale in comparison.
Santa is a complex human being: The Day Santa Stopped Believing In Harold – Atkinson
This is so perfect. And hilarious. Also adorable and even a little bit magic. The illustrations are PERFECT and at 5.5, Q laughs and laughs and laughs. We introduced this book at 5.5 before he started questioning Santa, but it seems to reinforce Santa more than bring up questions, and Q and I both love it.
The next year, at 6.5 (in the intervening year, Q had some visits from the tooth fairy and you can just see the wheels turning in this head that all of this just HAS to be bullshit), he still laughed, but it was more quiet, and he almost seems afraid to ask if this is BS. R2 at 4.5 found it hilarious.
Additional keywords: perspective. age range: 4+, family constellations – could be multiracial, transracial adoption, or blended family. My guess is since the protagonist is White-presenting and looks like his mother, with a Black father, this is a step-father-as-primary-caretaker situation. Which I love.
Santa is an elusive entrepreneur in a family business: Auntie Claus
I don’t see why Auntie Claus can’t just BE Santa. But whatever, she’s like second-in-command or whatever. There are a few in this series.
I love the first one, which is about selfless giving, when a spoiled little girl decides to give up all of her presents to save her brother on christmas and make sure he has them instead.Good for 4.5+, particularly older siblings who tend to be a little greedy. This lesson is AWESOME.
BUT the sequels SUCK. Not a giant fan of auntie claus and the key to christmas (NOT RECOMMENDED) first off, it’s confusing – she’s the main character’s aunt and santa’s one-and-only sister, but he’s also the kids uncle. So I guess maybe the kids are related on dad’s side? But I’m pretty sure I read that they were related on mom’s side. But also what is who and where with the Claus/Kringle name thing. I really need a family tree on the flyleaf or something. Maybe great-aunts? I dunno none of it makes any sense and how could it hurt for the kids to be the grandchildren of Santa? That would be so much more exciting and less distracting.
Also the story was a little boring, and confusing, chris kringle ends up working with the prunes and then is like NOPE and that’s the end of the story somehow. This one seems actively shitty compared to the first.
The other one, Auntie Claus: Home for the Holidays (NOT RECOMMENDED) was so bland/terrible I didn’t bother taking notes and have since forgotten it entirely.
Santa is real: Red ranger came calling
Depression isn’t the right word, since he snapped out of it so easily, but in this story, a grouchy little boy (the author’s father) meets Santa during a low-point in his career. This is for kids much older than 4, but at 4.5 the kids are willing to sit through it. the trick is to take it slow and do multiple readings, along with an explanation of what is going on during th story after reading each page. expect it to take 30+ minutes for younger kids. Since it ends with a surprise twist that reinforces the idea that Santa really does exist, it’s a ton of fun to read the night before Christmas, and we’ve made a habit of it each year.
This glorifies guns/laser shooters. It takes place just before WWII. As a biography of the author’s father, his love of a particular media hero who shoots space nazis and rescues space princesses is integral to the plot. Now that the kids are 4 & 6, we discuss the dissonance of this and how it would be different if he was growing up today. We talk about how our perspective on gun play has changed now that mass violence is increasing and guns are treated with frivolity instead of caution.
Beyond that – the reason we love this book is how this little twerp changes over the course of the story – he learns to receive shitty gifts graciously and become a more compassionate person.
Best for 5+, but worth skimming the text and tell a shorter version for 4. skepticism, magic, radical kindness, guns
Santa is (one of a bunch of) grouchy yule tomtes with hearts of gold: The Yule Tomte And The Little Rabbits
This is a longer book of tiny chapters, meant to be read one a day through December. Some mentions of Advent, and it centers around the event of St. Lucia Day. It’s adorable, lovely, funny, and heart-warming. R2 is willing to sit through it at 3.5, but they don’t really get the deeper levels and complex characters – such as being grouchy and saying ‘good riddance’ but missing someone underneath it – until around 5+.
It’s a headache, but usually we can manage to request these from the library in time for Christmas. If I had the money, this is the first one I’d purchase to keep. It’s so long we still haven’t managed to read it through without having to return it before the library due date.
Santa is basic white Santa, but modernized: Santa Claus the world’s number one toy expert.
Fun illustrations- with santa’s colorful variety of shorts. this is for families who believe in a full-blown santa experience with checklists and toy organization and wrapping and keeping track of each kid. we don’t do that, but this book is still in our arsenal just because it’s so funny. i don’t claim it’s true, and we just read it as a silly fun book.
Santa is a Dinosaur: Tyrannoclaus
This is utter nonsense with no moral lesson, I just get a kick out of it and the illustrations are great.
We started reading this back when it was hard to find book with girl & nonbinary protagonists, so we still switch all the pronouns with ‘she/her.’ It’s become a family tradition. From toddlerhood onward, I taught the Earthquakes that santa was a femme T-Rex sporting a gorgeous flowing beard (both Earthquakes had a beard obsession around 18-24 months).
There’s a perfect level of drama for toddlers – Santa almost falls into an active volcano and her beard gets singed. This is a favorite from ages 18 months – 4 years. At 5, Q wanted something with a bit more story.
Santa is Japanese (and not very good at their job) – Presents Through The Window
Thanks to Sharyn R. for this recommendation!
Taro Gomi is a Japanese maker well-known for depicting darker-skinned characters to fight the stereotype that all East Asians are light-skinned, which I love. Gomi’s dark-skinned Japanese Santa rocks a hot-pink jump suit, which in itself would be cute.
But the best part about this particular story is that Santa is just kind of terrible at their job. The Earthquakes LOVE seeing adults who make mistakes – it helps them feel better about all the spilling/falling/mistakes of everyday kid life.
Santa peeks through windows, makes wrong assumptions about who lives there, and tosses in some presents that don’t really work for the inhabitants. The recipients deal – they share or make do and are happy with the gifts, using them in unique ways other than the way they were intended.
The downside is that this isn’t a board book, but it has page cutouts for the windows (which are prone to ripping). It would be perfect for toddlers and preschoolers if it was a durable board book. Also worth noting – Santa doesn’t use pronouns for themselves, but uses ‘he/him’ pronouns OR no pronouns at all for all the people they deliver to. Best for ages 1 (with a caveat for fragile pages) through 4, maybe worth a read or two for 5 & 6.
WARNING: NOT FOR NON-INDIGENOUS KIDS – Santa is Indigenous: native american night before christmas
Santa is based on the Christian Saint Nicholas
These are way out of my lane – I was raised lapsed Catholic (Saints are super nice/brave, but just regular people). But I came upon these while we were researching Christianity.
- The legend of saint nicholas – grun & ferri – great short, simple bio with little stories that are engaging but not too long about the life of St. nicholas. Not so much about Christmas and santa, but it does show him in a red suit with a sack over his shoulder at the very end. Doesn’t focus on the man so much as the myth (does a bunch of magic things). Most of these are fanciful and seem to mix him up with the stories of Jesus (he walks on water, magically multiplies food) Depending on perspective, this is either a fun way to connect the two, or sacrilege. This is way of my lane! Additional keywords: kindness, generosity. Ages 4+
- Saint Nicholas (tompert) & The legend of Saint Nicholas (demi) – both are fine, but I prefer the one by grun for engagement and illustrations the best. Can’t remember if this one is more realistic than grun’s mythical semi-nonsense version, so it might be less offensive for strict-to-scripture folks (there’s a word for this. it escapes me at the moment.) Both are bland and boring enough that I wouldn’t get them again.
- Dinosaur Christmas – pallotta. Thought this would be fun based on illustrations but it was actually kinda boring.no story, just santa talking about what it’s like to use different dinos to pull his sled (just jokes) 2.5+
Santa Rex – molly idle – cute but boring. ages 2+
Jeanette claus saves christmas – rees – this isn’t a woman santa. what a bait-and-switch title! language like ‘stupid’ and santa’s daughter gets animals and the reindeer are a-holes, super boring, skip it.
santa bruce- higgins – nope. bruce books are just not for us and never will be.
- Shmelf the hanukkah elf – wolfe – i want to put ALL THE BRAKES on this one. he discovers some kids are ‘good’ (YIKES, way to reinforce static false dichotomies) and not naughty, but don’t get gifts. Discovers that they are jewish and hanukkah is great. santa makes him the hanukkah elf who helps their dreidels spin and makes the mehorah grow brighter and whispers in the ears of parents what kids want for gifts. Oh gosh. Centering Hanukkah as some sort of accessory to Christmas is… not great. diverse elves in gender and race, but jewish families are all white, except for one black mom with white presenting kids. seems like a huge whitewashing of Hanukkah to help keep the myth of santa alive for christian kids but I am soooo uncomfortable with this. problematic and NOT for interfaith collection. tons of reviews confirming my suspicion, whitewashes and assimilates jewish holiday by trying to equate it with jewish christmas.
- Santa Calls – Bland and forgettable. Shame, I had high hopes for something like Joyce’s Sandman.
- santa’s secret – HAHAHA holy crap, don’t google that book title. Unless you’re into Santa-porn. In which case, go for it. Anyway. boring, not sure why this even exists. shows santa surfing during the summer. gives his board away at the end. i don’t want to read about santa in the summer, and i don’t want to read about summer at christmas. also the story was boring.
- The 12 Sleighs of Christmas – rinker – sleigh breaks, elves (only black and white) create building competition and designs bunch of innovative techology. santa’s favorite is just his sled fixed. meh. ‘d rather spend our time reading “if i built a car”
- The Santa Trap (emmett) – This was a fun but troublesome read. Until roughly age 8, give or take some cognitive flexibility, kids don’t absorb the ‘end’ of a lesson so much as they normalize the behavior of the protagonist. This protagonist is painted as purely evil from birth (static mindset, yike) and there is no hope for redemption. But we tried it out at 7.5. While it is FUNNY, it wasn’t funny enough to get over the problematic parts. Q laughed at it, but I kind of sucked the joy out of it, stopping at every problematic part – “You know there’s no such thing as ‘bad’ people, right?” and “Unlike the parents in this book, don’t get the idea that I can be intimidated into spoiling you.” and “Isn’t this boy’s life so sad. He must be so lonely.” The lesson of the story is the kid’s evil schemes backfire – but that’s now how life works. When someone wealthy and aggressive targets someone else, they most often walk away unscathed.
Old befana (depaola) – While I’m sure there is a good way to spin the Befana tale (Santa as a woman who leaves gifts for all kinds presumably because she can’t tell the difference between them and the Christ child), this is not that. Beyond the fact that this story is forgettable, it makes me uncomfortable. It makes me sad. A an elderly woman with OCD is brushed off as crazy by her community. Instead of supporting her, they just treat her we treat many eccentric/disabled loners – we ignore them, or gossip about and ogle them. Leave this poor woman alone! Like most DePaola books, this ties into his Christian faith – I have no problem with that. What I DO have a problem with is the way he treats this woman, the normalized misogyny rampant throughout his stories. DePaola’s depiction of an elderly woman as crazy and stupid (I’m using slurs here because the reader is NOT intended to see her has having mental health conditions or intellectual disabilities – the reader is intended to feel superior to her) feeds into stereotypes about elderly woman and it is BULL. SHIT. This isn’t a charming origin story – it’s a tragedy.
- the great reindeer rebellion (trumbauer) – reindeer strike. not really clear WHY they went on strike, almost looks like they just got tired of working. since pulling heavy stuff IS the job, and that’s what they are tired of. santa hires other animals who suck at the job – but we don’t see how the animals are also oppressed by unfair work environments, they just suck and don’t work. the reindeer go on to ask for luxuries, like a whirlpool sauna, tv cable, and it kind of minimizes the fact that strikes are most often a last resort, implemented only when they face in situations when seriously toxic and dangerous work conditions, when administrations are treating workers inhumanely, when there is a vast wealth and labor divide between upper management and the people they have power over. People don’t strike for luxuries – they strike to survive. This book sells the propoganda that labor unions are just trying to milk employers for kicks. EW. NO. problematic for labor rights
- Samurai Santa rubin pingk. silly, irreverent book about ninjas and santa. Cute story BUT – 1. pretty violent. and 2. cultural appropriation, 3. orientalism and 4. (this is a big one) Rising Sun flag – which to many folks who are still feeling the effects of Japanese Imperialism & colonization (mostly South Koreans, some Chinese) is a hate symbol. This is what happens when you shallowly appropriate cute things from a culture/country you’re not from, YA GET STUFF WRONG.
Fine but not worth my time
- Here comes santa cat – underwood. Santa’s (aspiring assistant) is a cat: Ages 3.5+ one-sided conversation with a non-speaking cat (uses facial expressions/body language/posters). funny book, and reinforces our family’s understanding that anyone can be ‘a’ santa. But a mainstream santa shows up at the end. Kills the mystery, but the book is still pretty funny at 3.5 & 5.5. Revisiting again at 4.5 & 6.5, the highlights of this list are already covered better in books we’ve found above, so I’m downgrading it to a ‘fine but not worth reading.’