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.
“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.”
But soon after news of Jefferson's debut made headlines, there was a flurry hateful reactions denouncing the choice. Some even called for a boycott of the mall.
The Tribune was even forced to disable the comments section on its article due to a series of racist comments.
Looks like we had to turn comments off on story about Mall of America's first black Santa. Merry Christmas everyone!https://t.co/BQVm24DH6y— Scott Gillespie (@stribgillespie) December 2, 2016
But many others online were enthusiastic about the mall's choice and expressed excitement at being able to pay black Santa a visit.
I appreciate the @mallofamerica having a Black Santa who reflects the diversity of its patrons. More malls should follow suit.— April (@ReignOfApril) December 2, 2016
Neither Luther nor Jefferson have been deterred by negativity.
“It was like finding a needle in a haystack,” Luther said of finding Jefferson.
“He considers himself a Santa for all.”
A representative for the Mall of America was not immediately available for comment Monday.