|Dozens of jolly men in red suits visit the Twin Cities every year on Santa’s behalf. But this holiday season, the Mall of America has made a historic move. For the first time in its 24-year existence, the mall will feature a black Santa to wish everyone a merry Christmas, ask young girls and boys what is on their wish list, and pose for photos.
Landon Luther, co-owner of the Santa Experience, said that he spent this year looking for the perfect Santa. He launched his “Santa is for everyone” initiative, which is how he found Larry Jefferson, a retired U.S. Army veteran from Irving, Texas, who also happens to be black.
“This is a long time coming,” said Luther. “We want Santa to be for everyone, period.”
Jefferson was discovered at a “Kringle family reunion” this July, where about 1,000 Santa impersonators were in attendance. Reports say that Jefferson was the only black Santa there.
“What [the kids] see most of the time is this red suit and candy,” said Jefferson. “[Santa represents] a good spirit. I’m just a messenger to bring hope, love and peace to girls and boys.”
While he made his official Santa debut in 1999, Jefferson has been dressing as Kris Kringle since he was just a boy. At age 12, Jefferson’s father hurt his back, so he took it upon himself to dress as Santa and give presents to his younger siblings.
He followed up with his Santa impersonations year after year, delivering gifts to his cousins who were too sick to visit their local mall Santa.
The role stuck. After retiring from the military, Jefferson attended a prestigious Santa school and grew out a white beard of his own. While most retirees are happiest when involved in three to four activities, Jefferson is happy with his full-time gig as Santa, and manages to stay quite busy.
Just last year, Jefferson was inducted into the Lone Star Santas. The nonprofit organization has more than 350 members — Santas, Mrs. Clauses and elves alike — who donate time and toys to areas that have been affected by disaster. Jefferson is the only black member. Six Hispanic Santas and at least two Jewish Santas are a part of the organization as well.
“Being Santa comes from the heart,” said Jim Fletcher, director emeritus of the fraternal order. “It’s not what comes down the chimney.”
Santa Larry was booked four four days by the Mall of America, where he told children to stay off the naughty list and to listen to their mommies and daddies.
As for his own Christmas wish, Jefferson said that he’d love to be invited to the White House by President Obama, though he’d graciously accept an invitation from Donald Trump as well.