Mall of America Just Hired Its First Black Santa, and He’s Wonderful

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It’s 2016 and for the first time ever the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, has hired its first African-American Santa Claus. It’s big news because the Mall of America is the country’s largest mall, and it’s a big tourist attraction that lures visitors from all over the country.

The new Santa is Larry Jefferson, a retired U.S. Army veteran from Texas. He’s been a professional Santa for 17 years, and he says that being Santa is his calling. He does it because he loves kids, and he says he’ll continue to do it because representation matters and there aren’t a lot of non-white Santas out there.

Every year in Branson, Missouri, there is an annual Santa Convention that attracts nearly 1,000 professional Santas and Mrs. Clauses. Last year, the Mall of America’s Santa Experience sent an agent to the convention specifically to find a non-white Santa. There are fewer non-white Santas than one would think! Santa Experience co-owner Landon Luther said it was “like finding a needle in a haystack,” even though they were there specifically looking to hire a non-white Santa. Eventually, they found Larry Jefferson and offered him the job.

That’s how Santa Larry wound up being Santa for the biggest mall in the country.

Santa Larry’s promotion is a big deal for kids, but it’s a really big deal for adults. The Santa Experience at the Mall of America has four Santas, and Santa Larry’s greeting spots sold out almost immediately. Several families said they’d driven all the way across the state just to meet Santa Larry. One woman said she’d been waiting 25 years to see a black Santa.

Jefferson says that kids of color really like getting an opportunity to see a Santa that looks like them, or even just a non-white Santa, because that is evidence that Santa doesn’t always have to be white.

“It gives them something to identity with, but Santa is still just Santa,” Jefferson said to WCCO. “Just Saturday, I was doing an event, and one child said, ‘Santa, you’re brown,’ and I said, ‘Yes, I am, but Santa comes in many different colors.’ He said, ‘Oh,’ so I gave him a candy cane, he ran off with other kids.”

White children have of course seen dozens of white Santas by the time they would get to Jefferson, so it’s not like they are suddenly worried that Santa can’t be white. “Santa comes in many colors,” should be a good enough answer for any of them, too.

While some adults might lose their minds over the idea of a non-white Santa–the comments on the Minneapolis Star-Tribune site were so disgusting and vile the site wound up turning off the comments for the whole article– Jefferson says in his experience kids are completely chill about it. As far as the kids are concerned, they see the red suit and the candy canes, and they are just like, “OK, that’s Santa.”

Santa Larry’s guestbook is already full, but he’s proved so popular that one can only assume he’ll be around again next year. In the meantime, Jefferson says his big life goal is to be invited to the White House as Santa. Is it too late for President Obama to make this happen? Santa Larry is cute and wonderful and should get everything he wants for Christmas.