’Tis the season of joy and mall Santas.
For Larry Jefferson-Gamble, that means leaving his home in Dallas and traveling to Minneapolis’ Mall of America, which will have a black Santa for the first time ever this year.
“I love Christmas,” Jefferson-Gamble told The Huffington Post, explaining his decision to attend Santa school in 2014, at about the same time he retired from a career in the military. “I enjoy making people smile and be happy. During the holidays, people go through a lot.”
He’s played different versions of Santa since he was 12 years old, when he took care of presents that year because his dad was sick. Years later, when his nephews fell ill around Christmas, he bought a Santa suit for $30 to surprise them.
From there, he started doing volunteer work as Santa, “and it just took off.”
He says most kids don’t seem to notice he’s a black Santa ― they’re just ecstatic to meet Santa.
“Kids love Santa no matter what color you are,” he said, adding that it’s really all about the red suit and the beard. Plus, he joked, “if you’ve got candy you’re a winner.”
But for kids of color, sometimes it does make a difference.
“It gives them something to identity with,” Jefferson-Gamble told CBS Minnesota, “but Santa is still just Santa.”
“Just Saturday, I was doing an event, and one child said, ‘Santa, you’re brown,’” he recalled, “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.”
The Mall of America has more information about its “Santa Experience” on its website.