People often imagine Santa Claus as an old white man in a red velvet suit with white hair and beard. But a Santa Claus summer camp in New England aims to change that by sharing the stories of diverse people on a quest to become professional Santas.

In the new HBO Max documentary Santa Camp, viewers can follow the journeys of a Black man, a trans person and a man with spina bifida who uses an iPad to communicate and receives assistance from his mother.    

Each of them learns to embody Santa Claus at the New England Santa Society’s Santa Camp in New Hampshire. However, the experience isn’t all merry and bright. Participant Chris, who asked that his full name not be used, told People Magazine that receiving hate mail for putting a Black Santa on the lawn of his Arkansas home is what inspired him to become a Black Santa.

“Please remove your negro Santa Claus yard decoration,” the letter signed by “Santa Claus,” said. “You should try not to deceive children into believing that I am negro. I am a caucasian (white man, to you) and have been for the past 600 years. Your being jealous of my race is no excuse for your dishonesty, ” the racist letter continued. 

Chris is in good company, given how intensely some people have reacted to fictional characters being portrayed by Black people, from James Bond to The Little Mermaid.

Fortunately, the the racism was silenced by supporters.

After posting the letter online, Chris, who is Black explained that his neighbors, most of whom are white, displayed Black Santas on their lawns in a show of solidarity.

“It was very meaningful. I literally did not know any of them, and they decided to put those up. It’s great that people who live around you can see wrong and want to make it right,” he said. 

The whole experience moved him to take a step further in changing the world’s perception of Santa. “Representation is important to me because growing up, I didn’t see it,” said Chris. 

During the documentary, Chris undergoes a complete transformation into Santa Claus, including bleaching his naturally black and brown beard white.

According to People, since attending the camp for training, Chris has enjoyed taking on the role of Santa. The documentary includes some of those highlights, including him dressing up as Santa at a citywide event.

Chris’ Santa schedule for this year includes appearances in parades, festivals, photo shoots, and dances every weekend until Christmas.

“The fact that most of the community embraced me and was willing to accept Santa Claus as me was amazing,” he says. “It’s been a good journey,” he said. 

Santa Camp premieres on HBO Max on November 17.

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