Black Santa is a holiday tradition

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1 of 9 Santa takes a dance break for some Christmas tunes between Zoom calls with families. The Northwest African American Museum hosts a virtual Winter Wonderland event Sunday, featuring video calls and story times with Black Santa, films, music and a Holiday Market hosted all online at their website, naamnw.org. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)
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2 of 9 “When I was a kid, I was always expecting to see a white Santa,” said Jason Turner, in his first year putting on the red suit. He said the experience felt important for representation and equity in the community. “It’s a hopeful thing for folks.” Turner is a Museum Educator for the Northwest African American Museum, and the lead musician and organist for Seattle’s New Hope Missionary Baptist Church. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)
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3 of 9 “2020 has been quite a heavy year in so many ways,” said LaNesha DeBardelaben, executive director of the Northwest African American Museum. “This is just a glimmer of hope and light in what has been a very difficult year for our community and our nation. The Northwest African American Museum hosts a virtual Winter Wonderland event Sunday, featuring video calls and story times with Black Santa, films, music and a Holiday Market hosted all online at their website, naamnw.org. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)
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4 of 9 Photographer and media professional Michael Maine works on the video stream through the console in his studio. While many photographers had events cancelled this year, Maine used his skills to pivot to video and used his studio to film and produce many online events, which has kept him consistently busy. “It’s really rough out there,” he said, with a nod to the still photography work that dried up during the pandemic. “I feel very grateful.” (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)
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5 of 9 Photographer and media professional Michael Maine checks on the shot coming through the video camera in his studio for Santa’s Zoom calls. While many photographers had events cancelled this year, Maine used his skills to pivot to video and used his studio to film and produce many online events, which has kept him consistently busy. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)
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6 of 9 LaNesha DeBardelaben, left, and L. Patrice Bell work on filming for the Northwest African American Museum’s virtual Winter Wonderland event Sunday. DeBardelaben is the executive director of the museum and Bell is the director of guest services and external affairs. They spent most of Saturday and Sunday filming and making the virtual event happen in the studio. “We are producing a lot of content with a really small team,” said Bell, who has been behind a major pivot to online programming since the pandemic hit. “I feel like we’ve been able to do more than when we were working in a physical space…We’ve really made some positives out of a terrible situation.” (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)
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7 of 9 Clockwise from top, Jessica Parks, L. Patrice Bell, LaNesha DeBardelaben and Michael B. Maine run tech in Maine’s studio for the Northwest African American Museum’s virtual Winter Wonderland event Sunday. They had channels with films and music streaming, as well as video chats with Santa, and a Holiday Market that showcases local Black-owned businesses. Find out more at naamnw.org. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)
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8 of 9 L. Patrice Bell, director of guest services and external affairs for the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM), smiles while listening to kids ask Santa for their Christmas presents. “We’ve really made some positives out of a terrible situation,” said Bell, pointing to the success of NAAM’s online programming. They’ll be partnering with the Pan African Center for Empowerment for virtual Kwanzaa with more information to come at naamnw.org. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)
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9 of 9 Jessica Parks, an intern with the Northwest African American Museum, said her role is to “basically keep Santa in check,” by queuing up Zoom calls with families, putting the names of folks on a whiteboard for him, and writing down what the kids want for Christmas. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)

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.” 

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. 

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1 of 11 Amanda Reddaway holds her 8-month-old, Kendrick Barnes, up for a photo with Black Santa, as he waves in the background. Community members gathered for the opportunity to take a photo with Black Santa and get some gifts for children at the Rainier Beach Community Center on Saturday. The free event was organized by K-Hart of FB2T Photography and Moe Vegan food truck, in collaboration with Holiday Hangout, a group that gathered donations to provide 350 toys for distribution that day. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)
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2 of 11 From left, siblings Ja’kwan, 9, Javon’e, 11, Ja’angelo, 8, Shaconna, 17, and Shalaylah, 13, get their photo taken with Black Santa in his booth. Their mom, Shay Anderson, is a cousin of K-Hart, the organizer.(Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)
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3 of 11 Taliyah Gibson, 11, and her aunt Pam Ivey, center, wrap gifts for giving away at the Rainier Beach Community Center. They are part of the Holiday Hangout, a group that has been doing a toy drive and basketball tournament around the holidays for the last six years at the community center. They partnered with the Black Santa event this year to hand out the 350 donated gifts they gathered. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)
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4 of 11 No holiday event would be complete without some lights. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)
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5 of 11 Santa smiles behind a mask at A. Vang, 4, visiting his booth.(Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)
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6 of 11 K-Hart, left, organizer of the event, helps Santa adjust his festive mask.(Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)
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7 of 11 A young kid watches from the car window while in line to see Santa. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)
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8 of 11 Due to the pandemic, Santa doesn’t even get a dressing room this year, and puts on his red suit in the parking lot. Santa was played by local musician Frenchy Condé Lamont. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)
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9 of 11 Elijah Green, 10, hands out wrapped gifts to a family coming through the line. Green is part of the Holiday Hangout, a group that has been doing a toy drive and basketball tournament around the holidays for the last six years at the Rainier Beach Community Center. They partnered with the Black Santa event this year to hand out the 350 donated gifts they gathered. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)
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10 of 11 Santa waves to a young visitor to his booth, from behind a plexiglass divider. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)
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11 of 11 A. Vang, 4, smiles for a photo in Santa’s booth.(Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)

Bettina Hansen: bhansen@seattletimes.com;