For the first time in its 24-year history, the Mall of America has a black Santa Claus, so kids of color can finally have a St. Nick they can relate to.
Larry Jefferson, who lives just outside of Dallas and is a retired U.S. Army veteran, has a four-day contract this holiday season from Dec. 1-4 at the nation's largest mega-mall in Bloomington, Minn., just outside of Minneapolis.
Landon Luther, who co-owns the “Santa Experience” at the Mall of America—an intimate photo studio where customers can book appointments for kids to meet Santa and purchase a photo package of the experience—told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that it was a “long time coming. We want Santa to be for everyone, period."
Luther met Jefferson, whom everyone lovingly refers to as "Santa Larry," at a Santa-impersonator convention in Missouri this past July while he was on a national search for a "diverse St. Nicholas" for non-white kids who visited his studio. Jefferson was the only black Santa in attendance.
Parents of biracial kids told the Star Tribune they were delighted for their little ones to see that heroes come in all ethnicities. And if his popularity is any indication—hundreds of advance appointments made mean he’s booked solid for Saturday and Sunday—the waitlist accruing for any last-minute openings makes it look likely for the mega-mall to have him back again in the future, or another black Santa.
“Santa Larry” says that kids are usually more focused on his red, velvety suit and candy canes to notice his skin tone.
“[Santa represents] a good spirit,” he told the Star Tribune. "I’m just a messenger to bring hope, love and peace to girls and boys.”
Over the last four years, the number of black residents in Minnesota increased by nearly 40,000 people—a much bigger increase than the state’s white population over the same time period, according to data published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune earlier this year.
Slightly more than half of African-Americans living in Minnesota were born there (52 percent), and the rest were born in other U.S. states or territories. But an influx of foreign-born black immigrants from Somalia, Ethiopia and Liberia have contributed to a rapidly growing black community in the state.
After “Santa Larry” finishes up his contract, he’ll head back to Dallas to play Santa around the area. He’s been suiting up as Santa since 1999, attended a premiere Santa school and even grew his own white beard.
And his biggest Christmas wish? He’d love for President Obama to invite him to the White House this December. (But if it doesn’t happen, he says he’d be willing to visit next year instead.)