Old Navy Is Making Christmas More Inclusive with Santas of Color: 'Things Are Definitely Changing'

The virtual "Santa BOOT Camp" will cover the ins and outs of "becoming Santa"

Santa Claus
Santa Claus. Photo: Getty

Christmas is becoming more inclusive for everybody — including the Santa Claus community.

This year, Old Navy introduced a training course that encourages Santas of all "backgrounds, ethnicities and cultural heritages" to join in the tradition of spreading holiday cheer, according to a press release.

Launching on Friday, the virtual "Santa BOOT Camp" will cover the ins and outs of "becoming Santa," including how to answer some of the most frequently asked questions from children, lessons in both sign language and Spanish, as well as some tips on snapping a fridge-worthy photo.

The training will also feature some expert instruction from Dion Sinclair, otherwise known as "The Real Black Santa," fellow Black Santa Brian Butler as well as Bob Torres, a bilingual Santa who has worked in the industry for over three decades, according to Old Navy.

In addition to the training program, Old Navy is looking for "a range of diverse Santas" to make holiday memories with children at their flagship stores in New York City, San Francisco and Chicago.

"It's not the red suit or white hair and beard that create holiday magic, it's what you have in your heart," School4Santas founder Timothy Connaghan said in the release. "A good Santa should spread joy and exude the holiday spirit, regardless of their appearance."

Old Navy Santa Boot Camp
Old Navy Santa BOOTcamp. Old Navy

A lack of diversity among Santas is an important challenge to tackle — according to a 2017 survey, less than 5% of professional Santas were Black, Asian or Hispanic — but has been met with resistance and anger over the years.

"It is a concern," Connaghan — who owns a Santa booking agency, Kringle Group — told NBC News of the negative reaction some people have about Santas of color. "Change is hard for some people."

"Businesses like Old Navy understand that more and more customers want their Santas to look like them," added Connaghan. "But it's just very hard to find an Asian or Hispanic or African American Santa, especially one with a full white and real beard. Many are, I guess you can say, follicly challenged."

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Sinclair, who said he's "lucky" to be able to rock a full white beard, noted that "lots of Black men have trouble growing a beard like mine."

For some children, a lack of a realistic Santa beard can be a deal-breaker: "The theatrical white beards don't fool the kids anymore. The kids are smart," Sinclair said. "They can tell when somebody is wearing a fake beard."

However, Connaghan believes that white beards might be on the way out.

"I think, in a couple of years, most people won't be looking for Santas with white beards, and won't be expecting a Santa that looks like Tim Allen," he told NBC News, including a reference to the 1994 film The Santa Clause.

Although Sinclair, who is based in Atlanta, said he has witnessed some bigotry in his career, he chooses to stay focused on spreading holiday cheer.

"I'm not about politics and I'm a faith-based Santa, so I know I am not the reason for the season and I'm happy to share that with anyone willing to listen," he told the outlet. "But if I'm not your kind of Santa, that's OK. I will keep smiling and wishing the kids Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays."

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