Long before African-American Santa appeared at the Mall of America, there was “Chocolate Santa.” And chances are if you are black and from New Orleans, you’ve trekked to the 7th Ward and taken a photo with him.
Born Fred Parker, black Santa drove a school bus in New Orleans for years and was known for treating his entire busload of kids to a meal at a McDonald’s the last day of school before Christmas break. One year, a parent made him a Santa suit for the annual outing, and in 1971, Chocolate Santa officially made the scene.
Now, 46 years later, not much has changed (his face certainly hasn’t), except that now Santa rides around in a “get along,” or a scooter, for his knees instead of a sleigh.
Another cool fact: There’s nothing fake about this Santa—including his white beard, long hair and big belly. Initially he was clean shaven, and then he had to whiten his beard, but after all these years, it’s all real. And so is his sincerity.
“I love bringing joy to the people,” says Parker. “That’s my job.”
One Twitter user (@504reminisce) compiled photos of those who took flicks with Chocolate Santa. Take a walk down memory lane: