Santa Claus is the main attraction this time of year at any mall. But in South Los Angeles’ Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, their Santa Claus is extra special. Langston Patterson, who plays Santa Claus, has something that very few Santa’s do. He’s a black Santa in a historically white Santa world.
There has been so much in the news lately about Santa’s skin color thanks to remarks from FOX News’ Megyn Kelley that Santa is “white.” But Patterson, 77, and the South LA mall don’t make a lot of noise about the rarity of hosting a black Santa. Instead, they focus on the joy that the role gives to shoppers and the children who come to visit.
Patterson has been playing Santa Claus since 2004, when he was approached by a mall worker that focused on Christmas events. The mall worker had noticed that Patterson had a jolly demeanor and children were drawn to him. Patterson is a retired computer technician from the Los Angeles Unified School District. He was enjoying a meal at the mall’s food court to play the famous role. His gray, almost white beard obviously helped him get recognized for the part.
Unsure about the decision at first, it wasn’t long before Patterson knew that it would become something special for him.
“I just thought I was getting paid to put on a Santa suit and say ‘Ho! Ho! Ho!'” He told the LA Times recently. “But then I sat down and saw their reactions. I get a chance to make kids happy.”
The response of the children is what is so noteworthy about this special Santa. They don’t ask why is his skin color different. They just want to know if he’s the real deal. And Patterson responds the same way any well trained Santa would respond: “You tell me if I’m real.”
In 2013, one would think that multi-racial Santa Clauses would be fairly common. But of the 2,200 Santa Clauses, Timothy Connaghan, head of the International University of Santa Claus, a LA based Santa school, has trained over the last decade, only three have been black. “Santa is very strongly type casted because he was born out of Europe and as his story traveled throughout, he was mostly Caucasian,” Connaghan said.
The truth is, the real Saint Nicholas was part of the Orthodox Greek church and lived in what is now modern day Turkey around 300 A.D. He was known for being doctrinally conservative and very giving to the poor according to Adam English, a professor of religion at Campbell University who wrote the book “The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus.”
So modern arguments about Santa’s “skin color” are trivial at best. Santa Claus is really about fun and the opportunity for kids to enjoy the Christmas season. And Patterson does that without having to worry about the color of his skin.
“I never even thought about it,” the grandfatherly Santa said. “I’m just giving back and making the kids happy.”
But it’s not just the kids that love Santa, adults like to come and enjoy being in the presence of their favorite Santa.
“We need our kids to understand that good things happen in chocolate skin,” said Til Prince, 50, of Palmdale. She brought her granddaughter, niece and her niece’s son to share their Christmas wishes with Santa. “We are often bombarded with the opposite. We’re not trying to exclude anybody, but [instead] celebrate our chocolate skin.”
What a great example of how actions can speak louder than words. Patterson or mall staff never make a big deal about his skin color. They simply just enjoy the opportunity to bring joy at this time of year to all kids, no matter their skin color.