Shoppers at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn. were greeted by a brand new Santa Claus while holiday shopping over the weekend.
For the first time in the mall’s 24-year history, a Black man is playing the role of the North Pole’s most notable gift-giver.
“This is a long time coming,” Landon Luther, the co-owner of the Santa Experience, which has run the photo studio at the mall for 10 years, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
“We want Santa to be for everyone, period.”
Luther says he began looking for a different St. Nick in spring.
He found Larry Jefferson, a retired U.S. army veteran from Irving, Texas, after attending a Santa convention in Missouri. Nearly 1,000 impersonators convened for the ‘Kringle Family Reunion’ during the summer. Jefferson soon signed a four-day contract to work in Minnesota, after which he’ll head back home to work the seasonal circuit in Dallas.
His skin color, Jefferson said, hasn’t played a role in his interactions with the children on his lap.
“What they see most of the time is this red suit and candy,” he told the Tribune. “[Santa represents] a good spirit. I’m just a messenger to bring hope, love and peace to girls and boys.”