Every year for over four decades a black Santa in New Orleans nicknamed the 7th Ward Santa Claus makes photo rounds with kids for Christmas, so it turns out that generations of residents have distinct snapshots with him.
The 7th Ward Santa, in real life (or could it be that he is, in fact, Santa) is a man named Fred Parker, who’s spent about 45 years as the neighborhood’s official Santa, taking photos mainly at Dennis Photofinish studio on the corner of St. Bernard Avenue and North Tonti Street.
While white America just recently got its first black Santa at the Mall of America, this has been a tradition in New Orleans for decades. Here’s a heartwarming piece of history from a 2009 Nola.com story about Parker, who’s 74:
A few parents remember when Santa drove a school bus in New Orleans and was known for treating his entire busload of children to a meal at a McDonald’s restaurant each year, on the last day of school before Christmas break.
One year, 39 seasons ago, a child’s mother made him a red Santa suit for his annual outing, he said. After that, he began wearing the suit every year in New Orleans, for what now amounts to more than 100 appearances each season including stops at many of the city’s schools and daycare centers.
This 2013 article about Parker’s impact on the community calls the tradition a “rite of passage” in the city: “He’s a multi-generational cultural marker of all that is right with our city. He’s the bright spot in New Orleans schools, a positive tradition — one of few — that has survived Hurricane Katrina. He’s proof that Santa should look like you.”
Here’s video of Parker posing for pictures last year and recalling one kid who peed on his knees. In 2015, a teacher named Betty Clifton told the local WDSU News, “Every one of my brothers and sisters have taken pictures with Chocolate Santa and my son, who is now 23, took a picture with him when he was in elementary school.”
And so, an entire Twitter thread this week features years and years of photos of kids with the 7th Ward Santa, a man who’s the definition of committed. Epic is an appropriate word to use here. “Every time I see the joy on a child’s face it’s worth it,” Parker told WDSU last year. “As long as I’m healthy I’ll be here for the children.”