In the world of professional Santas, being chosen to play the rosy-cheeked gift giver at Bloomington, Minnesota’s Mall of America is like a cellist making it to Carnegie Hall. After 24 years of featuring only white Santa Clauses, this year, the organizers of the Santa Experience at America’s largest shopping mall made a point to be more diverse. So they went down to the annual Santa Claus convention in Branson, Missouri and, out of 800 Santas and Mrs. Clauses, they chose Larry Jefferson-Gamble, an African-American man from Irving, Texas, for the prestigious honor.
Jefferson-Gamble first fell in love with playing the Christmas icon at the age of 12. His father injured his back and gave him the big responsibility of distributing Christmas gifts to his 11 siblings. After that experience, Jefferson-Gamble was hooked. He became Santa for the troops during his 30-year career in the Army Reserves and has continued playing St. Nick professionally for the past 17 years.
Last Thursday, “Santa Larry” began his four-day run at the Mall of America and met families who flew from as far as Maryland, Arizona, and Kentucky just to have their kids take a picture with him. “There needs to be more Santas of color, because this is America, and kids need to see a Santa that looks like them,” he told The Washington Post. “That helps kids to identify with the love and spirit of the holiday, you know?” Jefferson-Gamble’s appearance at the mall has attracted a lot of media attention but he’s taking it all in stride. “It’s hilarious to me. I’m really humbled by it,” he said, chuckling. “Everyone’s making a big deal about this because I’m a black Santa. But gosh, I’m just Santa!”