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Mall Of America Is Hosting Its First Black Santa

"Anybody can be Santa. It’s what’s in your heart.”

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Mall of America, the largest mall in the country, is hosting its first ever black Santa this weekend.

The Santa Experience

Landon Luther, who co-owns the Minnesota mall's "Santa Experience" photo studio, which hosts dozens of Santas each year, told the Star Tribune "this is a long time coming."

“We want Santa to be for everyone, period," he said.

Last spring, Luther began a nationwide search for a Santa to whom children of color would be able to relate. At a Santa convention in Missouri in July, one of the mall's long-serving Santas met Larry Jefferson, a retired Army veteran and a proud Santa since 1999.

"It was like finding a needle in a haystack,” Luther said. “He considers himself a Santa for all.”

Jefferson told the Washington Post that Santas of color are "far and few between," and some families drove in from hours away to meet him.

“Some companies aren’t ready to hire a black Santa or a Hispanic Santa,” he said. “Minnesota has jumped to the forefront of a lot of states.”

“There needs to be more Santas of color, because this is America, and kids need to see a Santa that looks like them,” he said. “That helps kids to identify with the love and spirit of the holiday, you know?”

A representative for the Mall of America declined to comment.

Jefferson will greet children at the Mall of America for four days, from this previous Thursday through Sunday.

The Santa Experience

He will then return home to Texas to play Santa.

Mall of America customers have two options for pictures with Santa: they can make an appointment with the "Santa Experience" and purchase photos, or they can wait in line for a free Santa.

Last year, Jefferson became the first black memeber of the Lone Star Santas, a nonprofit made up of more than 350 Santas, Mrs. Clauses, and elves who give toys to children impacted by natural disasters.

The organization's director, Jim Fletcher, said the group also has two Jewish Santas and six who are Hispanic.

“Being Santa comes from the heart,” Fletcher said. “It’s not what comes down the chimney.”

Jefferson said the children he meets don't really care about the color of his skin — they're just excited to meet Santa.

Mall of America welcomes its first black Santa https://t.co/TJ90SkjZLP

“What they see most of time is this red suit and candy,” Jefferson said. “Santa represents a good spirit."

"I’m just a messenger to bring hope, love, and peace to girls and boys," he said. "Anybody can be Santa. It’s what’s in your heart.”

Julia Reinstein is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Julia Reinstein at julia.reinstein@buzzfeed.com.

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