Ho, ho, ho is the same in any language. It’s Santa’s other expressions that can pose a challenge in multicultural South Florida.
Although St. Nick is known more for listening than his gift of gab, children can better relate to a Santa who talks like them, advocates say.
“I wish there were more Santas who speak Spanish,” said Bob Elkin, of Tampa, who serves as a director of the California-based Fraternal Order of Bearded Santas. “The best I can do is ‘Feliz Navidad.’ ”
While ethnic Santas are becoming more prevalent at community centers and churches, most are volunteers, and even in South Florida not enough are bilingual, Elkin said. And it’s not just Spanish that’s needed.
On Saturday, for the third year in a row, volunteer Alain Lafontant, of Miramar, will play Papa Noel, as he’s called in the Haitian community.
“It’s such a simple act, but it feels amazing,” said Lafontant about his role. He speaks to the kids in English, French or Haitian Creole.
Speaking their language helps “make them comfortable,” said Frantz Devilme, who runs the toys for the poor giveaway in Miami’s Little Haiti.
There are more than 2.4 million South Florida residents who speak a foreign language, about a 7 percent increase since 2000, according to a 2007 census update.
Wayne Barton, founder of the Wayne Barton Center, a school and community center in Boca Raton, said having a Santa of the same skin color can also make an impression on children.
“When Santa bears the face that kids can connect to, it can raise their self-esteem,” he said.
But that is not easy, either.
Even at the Charles J. Howard School, in Midland, Mich., known as the “Harvard of Santa Schools,” which has been around for 75 years, staff said they’re not seeing much diversity.
Holly Valent, assistant to the dean, said in the last 25 years they’ve trained thousands of new Santas from across the globe. Of them, about 15 were black and three Hispanic. She said they haven’t had any Asian Santas.