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Mall of America, nation's biggest, hires first black Santa

| Friday, Dec. 2, 2016, 7:12 p.m.

MINNEAPOLIS — Dozens of Santas cycle through Twin Cities shopping centers each year, spreading joy to children who entrust them with their holiday wish lists.

What has been missing from that experience, some parents say, was a Kris Kringle who represented a wider swath of believers.

This week, for the first time in the Mall of America's 24-year history, a black Santa greeted families for Christmas photos.

“This is a long time coming,” said Landon Luther, co-owner of the Santa Experience, which has run the intimate photo studio at the mall for 10 years. “We want Santa to be for everyone, period.”

The mall offers a free, wait-in-line-with-the-masses Santa, as well as the book-an-appointment Santa Experience, which this year added a second location at the Bloomington megamall. The appointments require purchase of a photo package.

Luther started a national search last spring for a diverse St. Nicholas that kids of color would be able to relate to. Santa Sid, a 20-year veteran at MOA, finally found one while at a Santa convention in Branson, Mo., where nearly 1,000 impersonators convened for a “Kringle family reunion” in July.

Larry Jefferson, a retired Army veteran from Irving, Texas, was the only black Santa Claus in attendance. The jovial actor agreed to sign a four-day contract to work in Minnesota, after which he'll return home to work the seasonal circuit in Dallas.

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