When we think of Christmas, we picture the man in red. Thanks to Coca-Cola, the cheery figure with his Santa hat, long white beard and twinkle in his eye has become synonymous with the festive season. Yet when one Black mother started to introduce her children to the magic of Christmas, Charlotte Lewis was struck by the lack of diversity in festive imagery - and made it her mission to change things for the next generation.
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Charlotte's daughter was 18 months old when she first went to a Santa's grotto. After meeting a white Father Christmas figure and only meeting white staff dressed as elves, her daughter was confused. Charlotte explained: "There wasn't even anything in the gift shop that represented who we are."
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Charlotte is the brains behind Noir Kringle 'The Black Santa's Grotto Experience', a family-run event that gives children and parents the opportunity to visit a magical Christmas grotto where Father Christmas and all of his elves are Black.
Speaking exclusively to HELLO!, Charlotte opened up about the need for Noir Kringle and the heartfelt responses she's had from parents and children since the grotto experience opened in 2018.
Admitting she found growing up in the 1980s as a Black girl challenging, Charlotte explained: "I remember feeling underrepresented as a child. In the 80s, it was hard to even find a doll to play with that looked like me.
Charlotte Lewis, founder of Noir Kringle 'The Black Santa Grotto Experience'
"The notion of a Black Santa figure has been around in the States since the 1940s, but when I had my daughter, I searched and searched but couldn't find anything like that in the UK.
"I decided there and then that I wanted to set up a grotto for myself. There were lots of people, not just Black people, that wanted something different. It's been my passion project ever since."
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Charlotte said the need for representation of all races is so important to build esteem, self-confidence and fight the stigma the Black community faces on a daily basis.
"It's so important that children feel represented growing up, even in spaces that are fictional. Unfortunately, society rarely depicts the male black figure in a joyful or nurturing light", explained Charlotte, whose own mother now takes the lead as Mrs Kringle in her festive grotto.
Mrs Kringle reading festive stories to children at Noir Kringle
Charlotte recalled a heartfelt conversation she had with a five-year-old who came to visit Noir Kringle when it first opened. "I didn't realise elves could be Black," said the little girl.
"It's an insane conversation to have with a child," Charlotte continued. "Who said that something that doesn't even exist, a fictional elf, isn't allowed to look like them?"
"This is exactly why I'm doing this", she confirmed.
Mr Kringle spreading some Christmas magic at Noir Kringle's pop up event
The need for Noir Kringle is clear, with all dates of the Christmas grotto experience selling out for 2021, though parents should keep an eye on the website for details of more dates being added. Charlotte writes on the website that events are aimed at families who value the importance of positive Black representation, inclusion, diversity and want their children to be part of a magical experiential Christmas celebration.
Charlotte said: "I would encourage anyone and everyone to visit the grotto. People of all races are welcome to allow their children to embrace something outside of the norm and change perception of what the world is".
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