LOS ANGELES— In many western cultures, Santa Claus is traditionally depicted as Caucasian man with a white beard in a red suit. But around the United States, this symbol of Christmas comes in many colors. In one Los Angeles shopping mall non-traditional Santas are a tradition.
He’s known as “Saint Nicholas”, “Kris Kringle”, “Father Christmas”, or simply ….
'Santa. Yeah he’s a good person. He brings joy to a child and I really want to thank him for that,' said Jason Mata.
Jason Mata and his family come to the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza Mall every year to see this particular Santa Claus because he speaks Spanish.
“Go to school, be kind to your parents, do your homework, and enjoy life…be a kid," said a Spanish-speaking Santa.
During the holiday season, many U.S. shopping malls set up display areas where children can meet Santa and tell him what they want for Christmas. Most of those who put on the red suit to greet the children are white. But, according to Mall Marketing Director, Rachel Erickson, a Spanish-speaking Kris Kringle has been a part of their Multicultural Santa Program for more than a decade, because the neighborhood is so diverse.
“The demographic speaks to the Santa program that we have and we absolutely want make sure that our Santas are representative and culturally reflective of our neighbors," said Erickson.
The Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza Mall is located in the heart of L.A.'s Latino and African American neighborhoods. So the shopping center has two Santas - one Latino and one African-American. Langston Patterson portrays the black Santa and he says the kids get very excited.
“It’s a joy to see the kids jump around like grease in a skillet when they see Santa Claus and their very happy and focused. And I enjoy the parents and they enjoy me,"said Patterson.
Patterson is the only Santa that Sheila Ford's son has ever known.
“We make it a trip - a special trip - every year. And it’s really a surprise he still believes in him and that’s because they connect. And they connect because he looks like him," said Ford.
And that personal connection gives extra meaning to the holiday.