The Mall of America had hired a black Santa Claus, and the internet was having a meltdown.

In response, humor writer Daniel Kibblesmith tweeted that when he and his wife have children, he’ll tell them that Santa is black and when they see a white Santa, that he is Santa’s husband.

“We would have this extremely woke baby who was open to a Santa Claus with all kinds of orientations,” Kibblesmith told me, half joking.

 The tweet went viral, leading to illustrator A.P. Quach posting a painting of a black Santa and white Santa in loving embrace. Santa’s Husband was born.

The Harper Collins-published children’s book comes out Tuesday, and though it started as satire, the result is a genuinely sweet story that depicts a sound, joyful marriage—a particularly valuable sight, given the dearth of adult relationships, queer or not, shown in children’s books.

But of course, Kibblesmith and Quach have faced a lot of trolling for their status quo-challenging art; Kibblesmith says he even found his picture on a white supremacist’s blog trying to “out” him as Jewish. VICE spoke with Kibblesmith about the various politically-minded themes he and Quach sneaked into their innocuous-enough children’s book, and what he’s learned from the troubling and all-too-predictable online reaction to Santa’s Husband.

Daniel Kibblesmith: We see it as an all ages book; in stores it will be in the humor section. But our goal was to write something that any kind of family could theoretically enjoy at Christmas time, on any level. Maybe you’re a childless couple who has these politics and thinks the book is charming and funny; maybe you’re a new parent who wants to introduce a different kind of holiday tradition into your home, or just reinforce the idea that traditions like these are malleable, living things that every family interprets differently.

Our politics are obvious from the title—you know exactly what you’re getting into. But we thought of them more as little side jokes, not like a hit-you-over-the-head message. Also, in a world where Santa is in an interracial gay couple, those people might see the world the way that Quach and I see it, and we wanted to have jokes that reflected our philosophies.

The politics are obvious, to be sure, but still, the importance of this kind of representation in children’s books is worth reiterating.

Although Christmas traditions are repetitive every year, or appear very repetitive, they’ve in fact evolved over time to become this quintessentially weird, American mishmash of things that were added over the years—like Rudolph in the 1930s, and Elf on the Shelf within the last decade. They all seem like they’ve been there forever, but people have been tweaking and tweaking, and this is, we hope, the same thing. It just tweaks it in a way that allows people who are celebrating our traditional American Christmas to see themselves—or to see something different.

There’s a page in the book that focuses on the many iterations of “Santa” we’ve seen over the years, which seems helpful because you’re addressing those detractors off the bat, but not in a defensive tone.

In a lot of ways this book is just like any child’s first Santa Claus book, the same way that ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas contains basically everything you need to know to participate in “Santa Claus.” To do that, we had to acknowledge the same thing that the original Twitter joke did: that if this is Santa Claus, the explanation of the potential conflict between many other interpretations needed to be present.


Unrelated news: Lea DeLaria in Profile