‘I heard a child say that they didn’t realise there were Black elves,’ says Charlotte Lewis, founder of Noir Kringle. ‘How [wild] is that? That that’s something coming out of a five-year-old’s mouth in 2021?’
Lewis dreamt up Noir Kringle in 2019 when she wanted to take her daughter to an inclusive, Christmassy event but couldn’t find anything suitable in London. ‘There were lots of places in America that did Black Santa grottos and house visits,’ Lewis says. ‘I searched and searched for one here and then decided it was something that I was going to try and do myself.’
The aim? For more children to see themselves represented in Christmas imagery. ‘If you've managed to capture that from a young age, I think it really does make a difference in building confident people,’ says Lewis.
Her flat was soon crammed top to bottom with bags of decorations, presents and costumes (including her own elf outfit). Then it was time to fill the most important role: Santa. After all, you can’t just get anyone. ‘Sometimes, when you find someone [suitable], it’s hard to say, you look older and you’re… you know,’ Lewis laughed.
After finding two suitable Santas, Noir Kringle put on its first pop-up event, in Camberwell in 2019. ‘It was all in my head,’ Lewis says. ‘And so it was lovely to actually see it come to life. The reaction was quite overwhelming, we sold out much faster than I’d anticipated. It made me realise that there were so many other parents that felt the same as me.’ And it wasn’t just Black parents: Noir Kringle has had many different families wanting to show their children alternative kinds of representation.
In 2020, Noir Kringle sent out Santa letters to children, and this year, its throwing a vintage-style grotto in a new Shoreditch pop-up location. Families are invited to meet elves, indulge in reindeer-food-making sessions and attend elf school. ‘It’s really experiential and sensory,’ Lewis says. In Mrs Kringle’s kitchen, there’s traditional African and Caribbean food, and where possible, props are upcycled or made of recycled materials. ‘It’s difficult not to stay in character if you’re surrounded by things that represent something you’ve wanted to see for a very long time,’ says Steph Bent, who first played Mrs Kringle in 2019. ‘The children were delighted to see me.’
After guests finally meet Santa, there’s a gift shop selling diverse Christmas paraphernalia. ‘That was another thing that I felt was really lacking when I went to these grottos with my daughter,’ says Lewis. ‘There were no Black [tree] angels, wrapping paper or cards. That’s what I’m trying to encapsulate as well.’
This year, Noir Kringle’s pop-up sold out faster than ever, although a handful of extra tickets will be put on sale at 9am on November 25. Olufemi Mak normally works as a trainee mentor, but this is his first year in his part-time gig as a Noir Kringle Santa. ’I'm loving being able to meet new people and have an alter ego,’ he says.
Noir Kringle is hoping to expand in future, with events at other locations, to keep up with the huge demand. ‘I think people are becoming more aware of how important it is to show your children representation, whether you’re from a Black background or not,’ says Lewis. ‘It’s got a bigger meaning to it.’