For children of colour in Ottawa, Black Santa Claus is coming to town.
Or rather, he came to the Lenz Studio in Nepean Saturday and Sunday, offering parents an opportunity to buy professional photos of their children posed on the knee of a Santa who looks like them.
"I always cheekily said I will only do Santa photos if there's a Black Santa," said Mila Olumogba, organizer of The Black Santa Experience.
Olumogba's mother has collected Black Santa figurines for decades, since she found the first some 30 years ago at the Place d'Orléans shopping centre.
As their collection swelled, Olumogba herself became a mom and chose to boycott Santa photos — that is, until she could find a Black St. Nick. But that was hard, as the nearest Black Santa she could find was in Atlanta, Olumogba said.
So during the first pandemic year, Olumogba decided to break her policy. While waiting in line for her family's Santa photos, she remarked to her dad that she should just dress him up in a red jacket and ask Santa to step aside.
An interracial couple behind them overheard, Olumogba said, and they loved the idea.
"That's how Black Santa was born," she told CBC Radio's In Town And Out.
Since that fateful conversation, Olumogba's father, Meiz Majdoub, has embraced the role.
"He takes getting into character very seriously," Olumogba said.
Born in Ghana, Majdoub said it was natural for him to envision Santa as Black. All the political and religious leaders he knew growing up were Black, and Majdoub said he sees a disconnect between the way he views Santa Claus and the way his children and grandchildren have been conditioned to view Santa in a majority white country.
'They see their fathers'
Majdoub brings his Ghanaian heritage to the role: along the lapels of his jacket, he sports red, gold and green Kente cloth, a handwoven Ghanaian textile set in the country's colours.
"I would love to have this carried on as long as we can," he said.
For Pearly Pouponneau, seeing her children take photos with Majdoub's Santa on the weekend created a sense of "inclusivity" and a "feeling of familiarity."
"For our kids to look at Black Santa, they see their fathers. They see uncles. They see cousins. They see other family members reflected," Pouponneau said.
"And that familiarity was everything for us."