Without an official announcement or fanfare, U.S. Disney parks are including a Black Santa Claus in Christmas celebrations this year for the first time in the company's 66-year theme park history.
At both Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, and Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, a Black Santa has been spotted at certain meet-and-greets and at after-hours Christmas parties.
A Disney spokesperson told CNN that Santa Claus is represented in various ways in local and regional communities and around the world — and in that spirit, Santa Claus will reflect the diversity of surrounding communities at both Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort.
Disney parks are the latest place where families can see a non-White portrayal of Santa Claus, with more Black Santas appearing in recent years at shopping malls and in a recent Oreo cookie commercial.
On Friday, Old Navy is holding Santa Bootcamp, an online inclusive training program encouraging participation "from a broad array of backgrounds, ethnicities and cultural heritages to offer more representation in the role of Santa."
As expected, Disney guests and the general public have taken to social media with strong opinions.
Twitter user @maciiannn posted: "I'm pretty sure I just caught the very first black Santa to ever be at Walt Disney World and I am seriously crying happy tears."
But Twitter user @hawksmurray commented on the news, saying "Everyone knows Santa isn't black they should not make a black Santa just for a pr stunt."
Some users replied to that, saying "Everyone knows Santa is not real."
Victoria Wade, a theme park social media influencer who is Black, tweeted about the inclusion of a Black Santa at Disney parks, writing, "Never in life did I think disney would actually put a black Santa in the parks."
The move made her emotional and more likely to spend money attending the parks' Christmas parties, she said in her post.
"With Disney implementing this change as part of their diversity and inclusion initiative, it really allows me to feel more comfortable and seen when I visit the parks," she told CNN.
"Ultimately it makes me feel more accepted, welcome and I'm thrilled at what this will do for children of all backgrounds when they visit Disney parks."