Black Joy

Black Santas matter: How a Black-owned holiday store is making a difference

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‘Twas the month before Christmas, but all the through the year

Sunny and Ted spreads Black joy and good cheer

Sunny and Ted, home of the “Cocoa Santa Mug,” is becoming the go-to place for Black and brown holiday ware. We’re talking Mr. and Mrs. Claus mugs in shades of “honey,” “caramel,” and “chocolate.” Adorable Santa pillows for those cozy winter mornings. The shop’s Nutcracker collection is sure to give your holiday spread a whimsical touch.

These goods are more than knickknacks coated in melanin. Jasmine Williams, a 32-year-old mother of two, started the company with a heartwarming intention: to create a better world through diversity and representation for her sons, 19-month-old Sunday (Sunny) and 4-year-old Theodore (Ted).

Jasmine is the type of person who hears jingle bells year-round and puts her Christmas tree up after Halloween. Born in San Diego into a Navy family, Christmas was one of the few times of the year when Jasmine’s father was free from long shifts. Her family took advantage of that time to celebrate together. Now a Navy spouse, Jasmine and her husband are continuing the tradition with their own family by creating moments full of love, comforting food and warmth during the holidays.

“The warmth of Christmas comes from memory making,” she said. “It’s the storytelling, the laughter and just the inherent Black joy that we have. It’s magnified during the Christmas season because we’re together.”

Part of that memory-making process is pulling out the ornaments, cups and plates passed down the family line and sharing the stories of who got what from which family member and why. Jasmine has her mother’s red and metallic tablecloth. “It’s tacky,” Jasmine admitted, but it holds meaning because her mom used it every year during Christmas.

“I’m kind of getting butterflies just talking about it,” she said. “To be able to put that same tablecloth on the table my children are eating on feels exciting. It’s like it has some kind of magic dust on it.”

It’s no surprise that when Jasmine became pregnant with Theodore in 2018, she wanted to buy something she could later pass down to her children. She wanted a Black Santa mug because she wanted Theodore to grow up with positive images of Black people. It was almost a fruitless hunt. She checked in multiple stores, Amazon and even offered a finders fee to her friend in Florida who was helping her during her search.

After a couple months of searching, Jasmine decided to just sell the merchandise herself. She spent the next few years researching the manufacturing industry. She hopped on Pinterest to study the look of regular Santa mugs during the 50s, 60s and 70s. The designs were beautiful. All of them were white, though.

That was until Jasmine opened the first package full of Black Santa mugs. Excitement and fear rushed through her body. Jasmine and her husband funded this project in February 2020 by dipping into their savings, unaware of the looming global pandemic.

Jasmine pushed through their hesitation because she realized what Sunny and Ted’s impact could be. Black girls endure adultification bias as early as age 5. Black boys are seen as threats as young as age 10. Santa may be fictional, but he represents real values Black children deserve to enjoy, too. So she put the mugs on the market in November 2020.

“Santa represents joy and giving. He’s whimsical. That’s what I needed as a little girl and what I hoped my sons would get out of it,” Jasmine said. “To see yourself in someone who represents such a magical season is beautiful. I betted that other people needed that, too.”

Her bet was right. After collectively enduring months of medical and racial turmoil throughout 2020, Jasmine’s Cocoa Santa mugs came through like an amulet for Black families who felt physically and emotionally isolated. Designing the mugs in different shades of Blackness played a role in striking a chord on the heartstrings of her community. Jasmine started getting messages about how the cups looked like their son, their grandmas, themselves.

White clients asked Jasmine if it was ok to buy the mugs for their families. Jasmine said those messages spurred conversations about the lack of diversity in holiday merchandise. She has since pulled back from those types of conversations. When a white editor emailed her for a story, Jasmine purposely skipped over the question about diversity and representation.

“I feel like that work has been done,” she said. “It’s just emotional labor that I’m not willing to give.”

Jasmine said she has grown alongside her business. Since it’s just her and her virtual assistant, she’s trying to keep workflow at a comfortable pace. But navigating the ups and downs of entrepreneurship has its benefits.

“It really made me realize that I can do difficult things. It’s built up my self-esteem in a way that I was not expecting at the beginning,” she said.

Jonece Starr Dunigan

Jonece Starr Dunigan | jdunigan@reckonmedia.com

Jonece Starr Dunigan (She/her/hers) is a journalist who gives the microphone to communities that are often ignored by mainstream media. Guided by empathy, her reporting centers the stories, movement work and voices of Black, brown and queer people. Her writing strives to amplify and empower readers instead of exploiting them of their traumas.

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