People & Places

Vermont Conversation: A new Santa Claus is coming to town and ‘he is a uniter’

Santas Fin Ciappara, left, and Chris Kennedy. Contributed photos

The Vermont Conversation with David Goodman is a VTDigger podcast that features in-depth interviews on local and national issues with politicians, activists, artists, changemakers and citizens who are making a difference. Listen below, and subscribe on Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts or Spotify to hear more.

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Santa Claus is coming to town. But the person shimmying down the chimney may not be the rotund, bearded white man who has long played the role of St. Nick.

“Santa Camp” is a new documentary from HBO Max about an effort to diversify who represents Santa Claus. The story begins at the annual summer camp of the New England Santa Society, which represents more than 100 Christmas performers. The Santas realized that they need to look more like some of the communities that they serve. So they welcomed three new Santas: Chris Kennedy, a Black Santa from Arkansas; Levi Truax, aka Trans Santa, from Chicago; and “Santa Fin” Ciappara, a Santa with spina bifida who communicates via an iPad, joined by his mother Suki Ciappara.

Santa Fin always dreamed of being Santa in a parade. The movie captures the day in December 2021 when his dream came true and he sat in a sled pulled by elves in the River of Light parade in Waterbury. 

“Believe in your dreams and don't give up,” he said. "Be kind to people who are different."

For some, diversity is a threat. Kennedy set up an illuminated, inflatable Black Santa Claus display in his yard. Soon after, he received a racist letter. That motivated him to become Black Santa. 

“You're not going to steal my joy,” he told The Vermont Conversation. 

"I'm appealing to families who want diversity and want to see themselves represented or their adoptive kids want to see themselves represented. That's what I'm here for. I'm not here for the naysayers,” Kennedy said said.

The documentary showed the “Proud Boys” protesting Trans Santa Levi Truax outside the Chicago church where he was greeting children last year. Truax talked about violence directed against LGBTQ+ people, including the killing of five people at a Colorado Springs gay bar this week.

“We've always experienced hate. It's what makes us resilient. It's what makes us get louder and push harder,” he said. “The more that we feel the pressure from the hate, the more we're just going to be even more visible and more open. It's just what needs to happen.”

Truax believes that Trans Santa makes a difference, especially for the LGBTQ+ children who visit him. 

“I don't have an agenda to make your kids trans or whatever. My agenda is purely to spread joy and just be a good person, to be a good human. And to treat people with respect and dignity and just spread the love of Christmas,” he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Levi Truax's name.

David Goodman

About David

David Goodman is an award-winning journalist and the author of a dozen books, including four New York Times bestsellers that he co-authored with his sister, Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman. His work has appeared in Mother Jones, New York Times, Outside, Boston Globe and other publications. He is the host of The Vermont Conversation, a VTDigger podcast featuring in-depth interviews about local and national topics. The Vermont Conversation is also an hour-long weekly radio program that can be heard on Wednesday at 1 p.m. on WDEV/Radio Vermont.


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