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Larry Jefferson-Gamble's transformation into Santa Claus began when he was just 12 years old. He remembers that Christmas fondly.

It was the year his father hurt his back around the holidays and told him, "I need you to be Santa for me," the Washington Post reported. So little Larry, excited about his new role, went to work gathering all the presents for his 11 siblings and put them under the tree. It was a big moment.

Many years later — 17 of which were spent playing the jolly old man in a big, red suit at the professional level — Larry has taken on the gig of a lifetime.


"Santa Larry" will be the first black Santa at Minnesota's Mall of America, the largest shopping center in the U.S., this holiday season.

For the first time in the mall's 24-year history, one of the jolly men giving out hugs, smiling for photos, and listening to plenty of wish lists from kids won't be white.

The Mall of America isn't the exception, either. At the national scale, Santas of color are "far and few between," according to Larry. And that's a big reason why he does it.

“This is a long time coming,” Landon Luther, co-owner of the mall's Santa Experience, told the Star Tribune. “We want Santa to be for everyone, period.”

Photo via of the Mall of America, used with permission.

Sarah Schmidt, senior public relations manager at the mall, says slots to sit on Larry's lap at the Santa Experience — where families can schedule an appointment in advance to see St. Nick — are completely booked up throughout the next few days.

For many people, he's more than your average Kris Kringle.

Santa Larry, a U.S. veteran, means something special to a lot of boys and girls out there — and their parents.

Jefferson says he's talked to families who've driven hours just to see him, the Washington Post reports, with one woman telling him that she'd been waiting 25 years to meet a black Santa.

Unfortunately, Santa's skin color still seems to ruffle some people's feathers. An editor at the Star Tribune, for instance, says the paper had to turn off its comments section due to nasty feedback on its article about Santa Larry. And the debate over Santa's race has been known to fire up a few talking heads in the 24-hour cable news world.

Photo via the Mall of America, used with permission.

To kids, however, Santa Larry's skin color is no big deal.

“What they see most of the time is this red suit and candy,” Larry says. Santa represents "a good spirit. I’m just a messenger to bring hope, love and peace to girls and boys.”

And when they do notice that he doesn't look like most other Santas, it's a good thing, he says.

“There needs to be more Santas of color, because this is America, and kids need to see a Santa that looks like them,” he says. “That helps kids to identify with the love and spirit of the holiday, you know?”

10/10. The Mayyas dance.

We can almost always expect to see amazing acts and rare skills on “America’s Got Talent.” But sometimes, we get even more than that.

The Mayyas, a Lebanese women’s dance troupe whose name means “proud walk of a lioness,” delivered a performance so mesmerizing that judge Simon Cowell called it the “best dance act” the show has ever seen, winning them an almost instant golden buzzer.

Perhaps this victory comes as no surprise, considering that the Mayyas had previously won “Arab’s Got Talent” in 2019 and competed on “Britain’s Got Talent: The Champions.” But truly, it’s what motivates them to take to the stage that’s remarkable.

“Lebanon is a very beautiful country, but we live a daily struggle," one of the dancers said to the judges just moments before their audition. Another explained, “being a dancer as a female Arab is not fully supported yet.”

Nadim Cherfan, the team’s choreographer, added that “Lebanon is not considered a place where you can build a career out of dancing, so it’s really hard, and harder for women.”

Still, Cherfan shared that it was a previous “AGT” star who inspired the Mayyas to defy the odds and audition anyway. Nightbirde, a breakout singer who also earned a golden buzzer before tragically passing away in February 2021 due to cancer, had told the audience, “You can't wait until life isn't hard anymore before you decide to be happy.” The dance team took the advice to heart.

For the Mayyas, coming onto the “AGT” stage became more than an audition opportunity. Getting emotional, one of the dancers declared that it was “our only chance to prove to the world what Arab women can do, the art we can create, the fights we fight.”

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