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Research shows that the United States is becoming both more secular and more diverse: The US Census Bureau, in fact, projects that non-Hispanic white people will become a minority by 2044. Yet there are still those who refuse to see Christmas as anything other than a Norman Rockwell painting: full of vintage charm but alarmingly white and heteronormative.
Thankfully, there are heroes among us who are willing to step up and spread Christmas cheer in a way that’s both inclusive and realistic. Introducing Larry Jefferson, who earlier this month became the first-ever black Santa at the Mall of America in Minnesota.
Santa Larry, professional Santa
Larry Jefferson has an impressive list of credentials — the Irving, Texas native retired from the US Army in 2015 after spending 25 years in the reserves. But Larry wears more than one uniform, so to speak: for the past two decades he’s worked as a Santa-for-hire, classing up work and holiday parties in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
To be a successful Santa, one would think all you need is a suit and a smile, but Larry is classically trained: he graduated from the International University of Santa Claus, a comprehensive program for professional and volunteer Santas around the world. What’s more, he keeps up with the latest trends in the industry: This past summer, Larry attended a Santa convention in Missouri, which led to his breakout role as the first black Santa at the biggest mall in the country.
Santa sells out
Landon Luther is a co-owner of The Santa Experience, a Santa-booking agency that’s worked with the Mall of America for a decade. According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, a daily newspaper in the Twin Cities, Landon sent a surrogate down to the convention in Missouri with the express purpose of attracting a minority Santa for this year’s holiday season.
Out of 1,000 Santas, Larry was the only person of color.
After confirming that his beard was real — it was — Larry got the gig: a 4-day contract greeting children at the Mall of America.
Not long after the news was announced, Santa Larry sold out hard. His appointments were quickly became fully booked. Families began traveling from as far away as Arizona, Washington, New York and Oklahoma to take pictures with him.
Landon, who’d booked Larry for the gig, was shocked by the reaction, telling the Pioneer Press: “I think the coolest part about it, the folks that came to see Santa Larry were black, white, Asian, Hispanic. It felt like there was a sense of unity about it… Out of my ignorance, I would have assumed that only African-Americans would have been in line, but that wasn’t even close to the case.”
Hark, hear the backlash ring
Not everyone was on board with a black Santa working at such an iconic American landmark. An editor at Minnesota’s Star Tribune said the paper had been forced to shut down its comment section because of all the racist vitriol being posted by online trolls.
Racist sentiments were also made in the comments sections of other news sites like CBS and Yahoo, as well as on social media. Perhaps not surprisingly, none of those white supremacist trolls seemed aware of the fact that the original Santa Claus was actually from Turkey.
Santa Larry’s popularity signals an undeniable shift in holiday tradition. For the people of all races, ages, genders and religions who queued up to see him, Santa Larry isn’t a “black Santa” — he’s a Santa who happens to be black.
It’s his heart and spirit that make him magic and anyone who disagrees deserves a place on the naughty list for all eternity.