Chicago

Diverse Santa’s bring message of inclusion in Chicago

The magic of Santa Claus throughout Christmastime is aware of no bounds. For Jacob Nash, or “Trans Santa,” he realized what that actually meant throughout one surprising encounter on the Chicago Ridge Mall.

In November, Nash met Charlie, a teen who had not too long ago come out as transgender. His uncle, who clothes up as Santa for Christmas, didn’t “want to have anything to do with him anymore,” regardless of their as soon as nice relationship, in line with Nash. His mother determined to take him to this particular Santa as an alternative.

The dialog first began with Nash complimenting his brightly coloured hair. From there, Charlie and his mother began opening up extra about his expertise as an LGBTQ child. Nash shared with Charlie that his goals can come true, and sometime he may develop up and be Santa too.

“See? I am so glad we came to see this Santa,” the mother informed her son, in line with Nash.

Nash joins different Santas across the Chicago space who’re bringing extra numerous illustration to the beloved vacation determine of Santa. Whether Black or Mexican or LGBTQ, these Santas share a typical pleasure in spreading love and Christmas cheer for teenagers, making certain they see themselves represented.

Nash stated folks don’t all the time suppose how necessary that illustration is to youngsters who fear about being judged, even by “somebody who’s supposed to love everybody.”

“We’re seeing it now, especially with all the attacks towards trans youth,” Nash stated. “Kids can’t be themselves, and for them to even be afraid to go see Santa because they think that Santa won’t accept and love them or think that they’re a good kid is just mind-blowing to me.”

Santa Claus, portrayed by Jacob Nash, speaks with a child on Dec. 13, 2022, at Chicago Ridge Mall.

The Ohio native began sitting in “the sacred seat,” as he calls it, as Santa in 2016, however the interplay in Chicago Ridge made it “click” for him what it meant to be each trans and Santa. He posted about Charlie’s go to on Facebook in November, which has since garnered over 12,000 likes.

“Santa loves all children, it doesn’t matter what you look like, how you identify,” Nash stated. “It was that one encounter that really made me stop and think about what I was doing and how important it is not just for all children, but especially for trans children and trans parents.”

Andre Russell, or “Dreezy Claus,” has centered on bringing a way of cultural pleasure to Santa. As “Chicago’s Black Santa,” he has visited properties, workplaces, faculties and day cares throughout the town for the previous 10 years.

Just final year, Russell made Chicago historical past as the primary Black Santa to be invited to mild the tree downtown. He was invited for the lighting ceremony once more this year.

“I wanted to support and celebrate Black pride and progress,” Russell stated. “When they called me last year, it was like a dream come true.”

From malls to films, he stated the normal white Santa has remained the norm, however he needs to point out youngsters that Santa can come from any background.

“The more we evolve, the more we just want to show representation for certain things,” Russell stated. “I have a cultural-based Santa so kids can know that it exists.”

His imaginative and prescient is seen by his coat, which is adorned with African symbols and different representations of Black tradition. He stated they symbolize unity, household, love and different values.

Andre Russell, as Dreezy Claus, hugs Jay'Sean Jordan during a visit to Rose of Light Church in Chicago on Dec. 17, 2022.

Some youngsters, although, he stated are too busy having fun with their particular second with Santa to essentially take discover. He brings booklets and different supplies alongside, particularly throughout his visits to colleges, to assist them study what he represents.

“I don’t think kids really realize it, because they’re so into you as Santa,” Russell stated.

He stated typically youngsters categorical their curiosity, sharing that they thought Santa was white. His work is all about beginning these conversations, and so they imply one thing to the adults and oldsters too, he stated.

Adults inform Russell that they by no means noticed a Black Santa rising up and need one thing totally different for his or her youngsters, serving to them understand that range can embody Santa too.

“They want the kids to see that diversity,” Russell stated. “They want the kids to see that I exist. They want to see a Black Santa.”

Russell is just not alone in his mission. He stated he has related with different Black Santas in the “Santa-verse” by varied social media platforms, the place they’ll share the distinctive methods they’re diversifying the long-lasting vacation determine.

“It’s a wonderful thing,” Russell stated. “It’s different people out there across the nation who have been Black Santa over the years and are just doing a really good job at it. You can see what they’ve been doing and how they’ve been evolving their style.”

Dreezy Claus, portrayed by Andre Russell, visits families at Rose of Light Church in Chicago on Dec. 17, 2022.

Russell’s imaginative and prescient for Black Santa extends past the picture. He needs to create a program to bring extra Black Santas to Chicago. He additionally needs to develop illustration of Black Santa in different types, together with books. To introduce youngsters to the concept of believing in Black Santa, he has written two books, “Dreezy Claus and The Boy Who Didn’t Believe” and “Dreezy Claus & The Magic Coloring Book & Activity Book.”

The concept got here through the pandemic, as he engaged in digital visits to bring Christmas cheer to folks throughout troublesome occasions. But throughout these visits, Russell stated he didn’t need to simply learn classics like “A Christmas Carol.” He was searching for books that embodied his message, main him to create his personal.

“I didn’t see any cultural or Christmas books that I wanted to see, that I wanted to read,” Russell stated. “My books are about the beauty of believing in Black Santa.”

Simply having a Santa of a unique race and ethnicity might be significant. Ronnie Trejo, a Minnesota native and Mexican American, has performed Santa for 20 years. One place he visits usually is his daughter Yolanda’s hair salon, YO:U, in Chicago’s Noble Square neighborhood. The salon offers a smaller, extra intimate setting the place he has gotten to know households who go to him every year, who are sometimes Yolanda’s shoppers.

Ronnie Trejo, portraying Santa Claus, sits in a barber's chair as Kristie Stewart encourages her son, Graeme, 1, to take pictures with him at YO:U hair salon on Dec. 10, 2022, in Chicago. Trejo said he has played Santa for more than 20 years, in more recent years at the salon, which is owned by his daughter, Yolanda Trejo, second from right.

Yolanda Trejo stated the main focus is much less on her dad’s Mexican identification and extra about giving folks a chance to see Santa in an alternate space than the normal division retailer.

“I never thought about that in the beginning, it was just, my dad’s gonna come and give people a different space to see Santa that’s not like Macy’s,” she stated. “But whatever you can do to spread love and nontraditional ways of thinking is really powerful. I think having a nontraditional white Santa is a subtle way of doing that.”

As Santa, Ronnie Trejo has lengthy been concerned with toy drives and bringing Christmas pleasure to underserved and particular wants youngsters by the Minnesota Amber Alert Fundraiser group. He stated the group provides away upward of 600 toys every year. Now 68, he stated he’ll proceed being Santa so long as he can.

“I’ll tell you, I love being Santa,” Trejo stated. “I’m going to keep doing it as long as I can walk, I can talk.”

Over the years, Trejo has developed a very particular bond with a now-10-year-old named Lucy. The pair first met in 2018 when Lucy, who was adopted from Ukraine, was 6 and recovering from coronary heart surgical procedure. Her mother, Cheryl Czerlanis, has been going to Yolanda’s salon for the previous 10 years.

“They immediately clicked and hit it off,” Sleets stated. “It was really a sweet thing to see their relationship because within minutes they were chatting like they’ve known each other for years like, and he’s just such a warm and kind and caring person.”

Santa Claus, played by Ronnie Trejo, waits for Sam Flores, 1, to pass before taking pictures with Katie Garvey, left, Santa's elf, played by Kamari Escobedo, 11, Ryan Ingebritson, and Ryan and Katie's son Artie, 3, at YO:U hair salon on Dec. 10, 2022, in Chicago.

Czerlanis, whose husband is of Mexican descent, feels it’s necessary for teenagers to see that Santa might be any race or ethnicity.

“Perhaps there’s something comforting for kids in a different way, like a Santa Claus who has a voice that’s familiar, like their abuelo or grandfather,” Czerlanis stated.

As a trans Santa, Nash believes inclusion is inherent in the message of Santa. His “unapologetic” illustration of the LGBTQ group has resonated with many.

Nash stated many supporters have introduced their youngsters to see him, in addition to adults coming themselves. Recently, a trans man got here to him practically in tears.

“People say, ‘Oh my gosh, this is wonderful. Thank you for what you’re doing,” Nash stated. “I’ve had parents without their kids because their kids are grown up and want to just talk to me and thank me for what I’m doing and for representing.”

Nash stated he needs to be a “safe” individual for LGBTQ youths. He sees Santa’s chair as a sort of haven from a world that will choose them for who they’re.

“They come up to me and know that I’m trans and say, oh, my pronouns are she/them or he/him and this is my name, very proudly sharing with me who they are,” Nash stated. “That’s an amazing experience because they don’t just go around and tell everybody because they don’t know who they are safe to tell.”

He stated such alternatives for open expression weren’t obtainable to him as a child, and even conversations about trans folks had been stigmatized.

“Even when I came out in ’98, we were not talking about the trans community, and still, even less talking about trans men,” Nash stated.

Jacob Nash as Santa Claus waves to visitors on Dec. 13, 2022, at Chicago Ridge Mall. As a trans Santa, Nash believes inclusion is inherent in the message of Santa itself. His “unapologetic” representation of the LGBTQ community has resonated with many.

Christine Sleets of Oak Park realized about Nash from his submit on Facebook. His message resonated, as her daughter identifies as bisexual. Wearing her “Pride mom, free hugs” T-shirt, she determined to go to him and stated she bought “one of the best hugs” of her life. She has since developed a friendship with Nash and cosplayed throughout a vacation drag present he participated in, which raised $1,000 for an area household in want.

She has since informed different households with LGBTQ youngsters about Nash. Though typically, it’s simply as thrilling, if no more, for the mother and father.

“If you’re looking for trans Santa, I’ve got the guy,” Sleets stated. “But what I find hilarious is that the kids don’t care. It’s no big deal to them. It’s like Santa’s Black, Santa’s white, Santa’s trans, Santa’s not.”

While Nash is aware of not everybody embraces his message and anti-trans violence has been on the rise, it doesn’t deter him from doing what he loves.

“I’m not going to stop because people need me right now,” Nash stated. “People need hope. People need belief, whether it’s in magic, whether it’s in your faith. I think my story, unexpectedly, has given so many people that hope that they may have lost due to all of this violence and harm towards the community. I hope so anyway.”

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