Black Santas and Illuminated Menorahs

Martin Thielen

Christmas 2020 finds America deeply divided in many ways, including politically, racially, and even religiously. And yet stories of Christmas love, hope, peace, and joy still abound. For example, a few days ago, I came upon an inspiring story out of Little Rock, Arkansas.

A black family put up Christmas decorations in their front yard, including a large, inflatable black Santa. A few days later they received a letter from “Santa Claus.” It began, “Please remove your negro Santa Claus yard decoration. I am a white man and have been for the past 600 years.” It ended, “Obviously, your values are not that of our area, and maybe you should move to a neighborhood out east with the rest of your kind.”

The family shared that devasting experience on Facebook. Soon afterwards, an amazing thing occurred. Blank Santas began popping up in front yards throughout their subdivision. In response, the father of the black family said, “The outpouring of love, support, and unity that we’re seeing from the community has just been incredible. At the end of the day, what was meant for evil was flipped for good. We are showing that we are truly better together and united as one.”

That incident in Little Rock, Arkansas, reminded me of a similar story that occurred decades earlier in a quiet suburban neighborhood in Pennsylvania. Almost all of the families in that community were Christians. However, one family in the neighborhood was Jewish. Christmas season was rapidly approaching, and the entire neighborhood sparkled with Christmas decorations.

However, the decorations at the Jewish family’s home looked different. Instead of Christmas trees and lights, the Jewish home featured a large illuminated menorah in their front window. A Jewish menorah, of course, represents the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, which falls at about the same time as Christmas. In many ways the menorah, like the star of David, is a universal symbol of Judaism.

A few days before Christmas, at five o’clock one morning, the Jewish family awoke to the sound of shattering glass. The family ran downstairs and saw that their front window had been broken. Their illuminated menorah lay on the floor, beaten to pieces. The attack was a horrible assault on this Jewish family and on their religion. The pain of the assault was compounded even more by the fact that their grandparents had died in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany during World War II.

The husband immediately began to clean up the mess and had the window replaced. It took all morning to get everything finished. During the day word spread throughout the neighborhood about what happened. Many neighbors came by and told this family how sorry they were that this awful thing had occurred in their neighborhood.

Later that afternoon the Jewish family left their home to visit relatives. They did not know that behind the scenes, their Christian neighbors were hard at work, trying to redeem this horrible event. That night, when the Jewish family returned from visiting their relatives, they were met by an extraordinary sight. On the front window of nearly every home in their neighborhood hung a large illuminated menorah.