It’s that time of year when children line up in malls across the country for their chance to have a picture taken on Santa Claus’s lap and divulge their deepest Christmas wishes. It’s a longstanding American tradition, and this year, families that make the yuletide pilgrimage to the nation’s largest mall will be greeted by its first African-American Santa.
“This is a long time coming,” Landon Luther told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Luther is the co-owner of the Santa Experience, a photo studio that, for the past 10 years, has offered families the chance to skip the line at the Mall of America’s standard, come-one-come-all Santa meet-and-greet and make an appointment with the jolly old elf by purchasing a photo package.
“We want Santa to be for everyone, period,” Luther said. So this spring, he set out on a nationwide search for a Kris Kringle of color.
“It was like finding a needle in a haystack,” he said. But eventually, at a Santa Claus convention held in July in Branson, Mo., Luther finally met Larry Jefferson — the only black Santa out of close to 1,000 Santas in attendance. On Thursday, Jefferson started his four-day stint in Minnesota.
Jefferson, a retired U.S. Army veteran from Texas, has been transforming himself into St. Nick since 1999. Though a black Santa may be a first for the Mall of America crowd, Jefferson told the Star Tribune that, in his experience, when it comes to Santa Claus, kids don’t see color.
“What they see most of the time is this red suit and candy,” he said. “I’m just a messenger to bring hope, love and peace to girls and boys.”
According to the Star-Tribune, many of the parents of biracial youngsters who arrived at the Mall of America Thursday were excited to show their kids that Santa doesn’t have to be white. Others praised the mall on social media for making diversity a priority.
I appreciate the @mallofamerica having a Black Santa who reflects the diversity of its patrons. More malls should follow suit.
— April (@ReignOfApril) December 2, 2016
It seems that not everyone was as thrilled about the news, however. Star Tribune editor Scott Gillespie tweeted that the comments section on its “Black Santa” story had to be disabled, presumably due to blowback from some readers.