The largest shopping mall in the United States has hired its first black Santa Claus.
Larry Jefferson is the Mall of America's first black Santa Claus in its 24-year history to greet young children and adults for annual Christmas photos, The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Jefferson will pose for photos with families from Dec. 1 to Dec. 4 as part of the Minnesota mall's Santa Experience.
"This is a long time coming," said Landon Luther, co-owner of the Santa Experience, which has operated the mall's photo studio for the last ten years. "We want Santa to be for everyone, period."
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Luther commenced his national search for an ethnically diverse Santa Claus last Spring. He hoped he would find someone children of color could relate to in person.
Santa Sid, who has worked at the Mall of America for twenty years, found Jefferson at a Santa convention in Missouri, where almost 1,000 impersonators gathered in July.
Larry Jefferson, a retired U.S. Army veteran from Texas, was the only black Santa Claus at the convention. The cheery actor has been contracted to work four days in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after which he will return to his home state to round up the holiday circuit.
Jefferson stated his skin tone doesn't bother the children he greets.
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"What they see most of the time is this red suit and candy," he said, as he stroked his red velvet coat. "[Santa represents] a good spirit. I’m just a messenger to bring hope, love and peace to girls and boys."
According to WCCO, Jefferson said children of different racial backgrounds are always excited to meet him.
“It gives them something to identify with, but Santa is still just Santa,” Jefferson told the TV station.
He first played Santa when his father fell ill and couldn't play act Kris Kringle. Then a young 12-year-old boy, he treated his younger siblings to Christmas presents instead. Years later, he relived the role again by surprising his sick nephews with a newly purchased $30 Santa suit and a bevy of presents.
Since then, The Huffington Post reports, he has volunteered as Santa "and it just took off," said Jefferson.