Many holiday traditions were canceled this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, but Black Santa still made the rounds in Seattle to end the year. 

“We did not let COVID stop us,” said LaNesha DeBardelaben, executive director of the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM) in Seattle. The museum held their popular annual Black Santa event online, with families able to video chat with Santa over Zoom.  

On Saturday in Rainier Beach, another Black Santa event organized by K-Hart of FB2T Photography and Moe Vegan food truck invited folks to drive up to an outdoor booth to get a photo with Santa and donated toys from the annual Holiday Hangout program. 

“2020 has been quite a heavy year in so many ways,” DeBardelaben said. “We have been hurting, and this joyful moment allows us to move to a place of healing and hope.” 

Black Santa traditions are not new to Seattle, but they feel even more important in a year that saw widespread uprisings against systematic racism and police brutality. Conversations around representation and equity take a more urgent tone in this light. 

“When I was a kid, I was always expecting to see a white Santa,” said Jason Turner, donning the red suit and synthetic facial hair for NAAM’s virtual event. Turner is a museum educator for NAAM, and the lead musician and organist for Seattle’s New Hope Missionary Baptist Church. “It’s really important for all communities to see.” 

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Since April, NAAM has pivoted their programming online, from art exhibitions, to book clubs, film screenings, story time, and even their annual fundraiser, the Unity Benefit, which raised over $700,000. “We are producing a lot of content with a really small team,” said L. Patrice Bell, the director of guest services and external affairs for the museum. 

Bell planned the programming for the virtual Winter Wonderland, which featured films and music streaming as well as the Santa visits over Zoom and a Holiday Market, which is an index of Black-owned businesses for shopping. “I feel like we’ve been able to do more than when we were working in a physical space,” she said. “We’ve really made some positives out of a terrible situation.” 

“We have to hold on to our children and protect our joy,” DeBardelaben said. “We are not derailed by the challenges we have faced this year. This is just a glimmer of hope and light in what has been a very difficult year for our community and our nation.” 

To find out more about NAAM’s virtual events and the Holiday Market, visit their website at https://www.naamnw.org/ and check back soon for their upcoming Kwanzaa event on December 31, 2020.