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Black Coloradans embrace diversity by blending old holiday traditions with new

Black Santa Stanley Marketplace
Posted at 9:07 PM, Dec 22, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-22 23:07:56-05

DENVER — This Christmas, Coloradans are embracing diversity by mixing old traditions with new — from a muscular Black Santa to a soul food dinner combining Southern tradition with a blend of other cultures.

When Adrian Miller cooks Christmas dinner, he serves up old traditions along with new ones. As a Coloradan with roots in the South, Miller said, “When it comes to the holidays, people have their ideas of what should be on the table.”

“Making the holiday mac and cheese, usually you have to present a resume and throw three or four or five references in to show that you're legit,” he said. “I try to bring in other traditions and weave in what other cultures are doing.”

Adrian Miller Soul Food Christmas
Adrian Miller, the self-proclaimed Soul Food Scholar, stirs his traditional pot of greens seasoned with ham hock.

Miller draws from his family’s experience. His mother is from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and his father is from Helena, Arkansas. Years ago, he read a book on the history of Southern food that started him on a journey.

“I became the soul food scholar by being self-appointed,” he said. He read thousands of oral histories of enslaved people, roughly 500 cookbooks and thousands of newspaper and magazine articles. "Then because I care so deeply about my subject, I decided to eat my way through the country. So, I went to 150 soul food restaurants in 35 cities and 15 states."

Miller shared what he learned in his book, "Soul Food."

His Christmas memories trace back to fighting for a slice of his mom’s lemon icebox pie. Although his mom has passed, his brother, Duran, has taken up the tradition of baking it. “We still fight over it,” Miller said.

Soul Food Christmas
Adrian Miller's Christmas plate combines Southern cooking with Caribbean and Italian influences.

His Christmas plate still includes prime rib, ham and soul food sides like a mix of collard and mustard greens. But nowadays, he’s also added shrimp and grits — a nod to the Italian tradition of celebrating with a Feast of the Seven Fishes. He also serves a refreshing glass of sorrel, also known as hibiscus or jamaica flower. In the Caribbean, sorrel is served at Christmastime because that is when the flowers bloom.

His openness to celebrate with diverse traditions is shared by many Coloradans. This year at the Stanley Marketplace in Aurora, Santas of all races greeted shoppers and took photos with kids.

Black Santa Stanley Marketplace
Children fist bump and flex their muscles with the Stanley Marketplace's muscular Black Santa.

"I think Santa has come in all shapes, sizes, colors. So, I like to be representation,” said Courtney Samuel, a muscular Black man with tattoos.

“I've been called the cool Santa,” he said. “We purposely cut the sleeves off because I said I'm not a fat Santa. That's not who I am.”

Walking through the mall, handing out candy canes to children, he said, “It truly feels better to give than receive.”

And in a place as diverse as the Denver metro area, where nearly 10% of residents identify as Black or African American, having a Santa like Samuel helps bring more representation to the holiday.

"It's such a family-oriented community here. Very diverse, which we love,” he said.

Black Coloradans embrace diversity by blending old holiday traditions with new

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