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Macy's has a black Santa, by special request

By Lorenzo Ferrigno, CNN
December 24, 2013 -- Updated 2050 GMT (0450 HKT)
  • CNN visits Macy's black Santa, available by special request
  • He's called a "special" Santa
  • The store on New York's 34th Street has had the tradition for years

(CNN) -- 'Twas two nights before Christmas, and I headed down to find Santa in Macy's flagship store in Herald Square, New York City -- the one famously known to be on 34th Street.

The blog Animal New York had reported that this store has a separate, "special" Santa who is black.

It's unclear how long this tradition has lasted, but one woman told CNN affiliate WCBS she's been taking her kids to see this special Santa for 10 years.

This year, however, there's special significance. Santa's race became the focal point of a debate sparked by Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly's comments that "Santa just is white."

So CNN wanted to see this "special" Santa for ourselves.

After seeking assistance from a helpful employee, I rode the escalators to the 8th floor and quickly found crowds of people and merry elves at the entrance to the North Pole.

There were no signs indicating any special, separate line or suggesting that you could have your picture taken with an African-American Santa.

"Is there a special Santa?" I asked one of the first elves I saw.

"We only have one," he responded. "Do you think the line would be this long if we had two?" Then the elf went back to spreading Christmas cheer to children in line.

I braced myself for the two-hour estimated wait.

At the entrance of the line, I asked another elf whether there was a "special" Santa I could see.

"There is a special Santa. He's black," she said. Everyone waits in the same line, so I would have to ask for him at the end, she said.

The treacherous path to the North Pole, lined with exhausted parents and clamoring children, wove through the store, down "PersonELF Only" hallways and even snaked through Macy's Human Resources waiting room.

Most of the kids around me were patient and excited. I overheard them tell their parents they wanted toy Jeeps and Kindle Fires from Santa.

Perhaps it was the fear of being put on the naughty list with less than 48 hours until Christmas that made some of the children surprisingly subdued.

"You can't go and see Santa with untied shoelaces!" one mother told her son. He tied them.

After an hour and a half, the kids started to grow a bit rambunctious. Sometimes, one parent would leave to get the group Starbucks while the other would hold the place in line.

Once I made it inside the North Pole, I asked another elf to make sure I didn't need to divert to see "special" Santa. She assured me all I would have to do was ask for him at the end of the line.

Finally, I arrived at the end of the line and made my request.

Almost all the elves I encountered seemed to know what I meant by "special" Santa. They ushered me just to the side while an elf went to see whether he was ready.

While I waited, 25 families were brought in, escorted by elves, to three separate areas to see Santas. Presumably, the Santas are hidden in separate areas so that no child sees more than one.

During my wait, I made friends with an elf who was, amazingly, even cheerier and more helpful than all the others I met along the way. The kids were mesmerized by all the elves' joy.

My new elf friend told me that my Santa needed a "costume change." After about 10 minutes, he was ready for me.

I headed to a room towards the back -- a fourth route where none of the other 25 families had gone.

In the quiet room was a black Santa, jolly as could be. He asked me what I wanted for Christmas and even urged me to ask for more..

We each wished the other a Merry Christmas, and I was escorted out.

Before leaving, I ran into the first elf I had seen. I asked him why there aren't any signs or notice for the "special" Santa. "I have no idea, that's a Macy's thing," the black elf said.

I asked him whether he thinks Macy's should publicize the "special" Santa. "I have no idea," the elf said. "I just show up and have a good time and shine shiny things."

When reached for comment, Macy's VP of Media Relations Elina Kazan said, "At Macy's, we have upheld the tradition and believe in our hearts that there is only one Santa Claus, and that Santa is all things to all people who believe in the spirit and goodness of Santa."

"I think it's kind of ridiculous," said Macy's customer Harold Buisson of Brooklyn, New York. "It just adds to more division in my mind because if you just put them all out in the same place, then it would just be a choice of whoever walks up as opposed to a form of segregation, which is the way it seems like."

But others express appreciation to Macy's.

"I could have gone anywhere, but I came right here to Macy's because I knew they had an African-American Santa," Elizabeth Kittles, who brought her sons to see the black Santa, told WCBS.

CNN's Julie Cannold contributed to this report.

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