• Santa Dennis, a Kamilaroi man, donning as Santa in Newcastle for the last 10 years. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Major shopping malls are making an effort to better reflect the communities they serve.
Sophie Verass

21 Dec 2016 - 10:13 AM  UPDATED 21 Dec 2016 - 10:16 AM

Larry Jefferson has been donning himself as Father Christmas since 1999, but this year he got the promotion of a lifetime - he is not only portraying Santa at the Mall of America; the largest shopping mall in the US, but in the 24 years that the shopping mall has offered this service, Jefferson is proudly the first black Santa to grace the workshop.

This holiday season, the mid-50s former US Army veteran has been meeting the Minnesota community as a jolly Santa, wearing the signature red and white suit, with some families travelling hours to greet the unique Father Christmas.

“There need to be more Santas of Colour, because this is America, and kids need to see a Santa that looks like them,” Jefferson told the Washington Post. “That helps kids to identify with the love and spirit of the holiday, you know?”

Jefferson was scouted by the Mall of America at the annual Santa Claus convention in July this year, which draws over 800 Santa and Mrs. Clauses. The mission was to recruit a Santa of colour and celebrate the diversity of people in the country. However, black or not, Mr Jefferson who has been donning himself as Father Christmas for nearly 17 years and embodies the persona like it’s second nature to him, was the ideal candidate on a number of levels.

While there has been an overwhelming positive response from the community, with patrons commending the push toward inclusivity, the employment has been deemed as ‘controversial’. One local newspaper who reported on the story had to shut down its comment section after a torrent of racist abuse and many aired their grievances on social media to boycott the shopping mall.

While the Mall of America introduces an ethnically diverse Santa just this year, Australia has been welcoming Father Christmases of different backgrounds for a long time.

Westfield Australia works with an agency who places different Santas in their variety of malls, with two Indigenous Santas employed at their highest profiled malls – one of which have been serving the community for 10 years!

A spokesperson for Westfield Australia told NITV,

“Our philosophy is that our employees should represent the communities in which we operate  - and that, of course -  is a diverse group.

The criteria for our Santas, which are sourced through the agency who we work closely with over the Christmas period, is to be jolly, kind, like talking to children and of course have all the necessary safety checks in order.”

Santa Dennis at Kotara Westfield is a proud Kamilaroi man has been meeting and greeting the Newcastle community annually for nearly a decade. He says he enjoys having the opportunity to meet people of all different backgrounds.

“I believe it is important to accept and respect all people of all ethnicities, their cultures and beliefs. Australia is our shared home I believe we should embrace multiculturalism during this special time of year,” he told NITV.

“What I love most about my job is seeing the magic created after each photo with boys and girls, their parents and grandparents, friends and families. When they walk away with such as sense of happiness – that’s what Christmas means to me.”

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