The Christmas countdown continues and children, cross-country and internationally, are preparing for the holiday season. In the illumination of extravagant string light decorations and shiny ornaments, they’re cashing in their wish lists in hopes that the ever-so-jolly leader of the North Pole will leave them something good under the pine branches.
For a vast number of Americans who’ve celebrated Christmas, Santa Claus has been no less than a staple of our childhoods. As teenagers and young adults, it’s a silly image to imagine: An old man wiggling down the chimney of every house in the world, bearing a sack full of gifts and gauging on cookies and milk. Growing up, though, it was a sense of reality; a reality that’s gotten just a touch more of color.
For four days of the Santa Experience, the largest mall in the United States has hired a Black man to be Santa for the first time in it’s twenty-four-year history.
Since Thursday morning, Texas native and U.S. Army veteran Larry Jefferson has been bringing joy and candy canes to the children of Bloomington, Minnesota at the Mall of America, filling the red velvet suit that has for too long been filled by the typical white male prototype. He first stepped into the scope as St. Nicholas at the age of twelve, helping to “divvy up” presents for his siblings after his father hurt his back. This love continued through time, and in 1999 he began to officially play the role of Santa.
Today, he’s Santa Larry, and his goal remains the same.
“[Santa represents] a good spirit. I’m just a messenger to bring hope, love and peace to girls and boys.”
For many, Santa is symbolic to ideas like love, kindness, and generosity. It isn’t often that mass model characters like him are people of color. This can have a potentially negative impact on young children of varying ethnic and racial groups, making it appear that they are worth less.
“It gives [other minority children] something to identify with … Just Saturday, I was doing an event, and one child said, ‘Santa, you’re brown,’ and I said, ‘Yes, I am, but Santa comes in many different colors.’ He said, ‘Oh,’ so I gave him a candy cane. He ran off with other kids.”
Children are easily impressionable, and it is important for it to be instilled in them at an early age to be aware and accepting of differences. With today’s social climate, and the intensity of race relations following the election, unlawful murders of Black people, and increase in vocal hatred against minorities, it’s important that young children of color have someone they can look up to, especially when that monumental person is an icon to everyone who celebrates the holiday.
“Kids only see one image of Santa. Even though he’s a fictional character, he could be any color, any race, any gender. This is an image of him, too.”
— Shanene Herbert, director of Project SPIRIT
A Black Santa might not erase racism, and all of our problems haven’t disappeared because one Santa out of thousands finally has a tan. But positive representation is important for the disproportioned youth, whether they’re Black, brown, yellow, red, or anywhere in between.
But all I know is that my Santa is Black and my ornaments are blue, and I’d be disappointed if my gifts ain’t, too.