In most depictions, Santa is older, white and male. A new survey shows that about 30% of respondents believe Santa needs a new image, with 10% believing it should be as a woman and almost 20% as gender neutral.
Research firm GraphicSpring polled 4,000 people in the United States and the United Kingdom about how Santa should be depicted. They answered a long series of questions, the last of which was whether Santa should be male, female or gender neutral. In specific, of Americans who answered, 70.79% said male, 10.58% said female and 18.64% said gender neutral.
Santa’s current image has been built on centuries of legends. Perhaps the first is of Saint Nicholas of Myra. The Greek bishop who lived in the fourth century was known for gifts he made to the poor. Another legend that contributed to the modern version of Santa is the figure of Father Christmas, which originated in 16th-century England. One prominent appearance of this character was in Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” in 1843. There are similar characters in other European cultures. All are known for generosity, and all are white and male.
Santa’s image in the United States has changed over the past several decades, particularly Santa’s race. According to the BBC, “As white people moved out to the suburbs, and began shopping at the giant new malls that were being built there, it made economic sense for downtown department store owners to tailor the Christmas shopping experience to their now mainly black customers.” Santa’s race changed long before the poll about Santa’s gender.
As Christmas became commercialized, so did Santa. He has been the major character in dozens of movies, turned into lawn ornaments and put on countless Christmas cards. Corporations use his image throughout the holidays. For quite some time, Coca-Cola has used Santa widely in its commercials. There is no commercial ownership of Santa, based on most legal opinions. He comes in too many forms for one any one to be considered close to universal.
GraphicSpring asked about a number of other possible changes to Santa’s image. Nine percent of respondents think Santa should carry an iPhone as part of a new image, and 14% think he should drive a flying car. Almost 17% think Santa should use Amazon Prime. So Apple and Amazon join the long line of companies that have been linked to Santa, whether or not they have promoted it themselves.
Santa has changed with the times. And, based on the new poll, he likely will change again.