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NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KARK) – After receiving a letter from a racist neighbor regarding last year’s Christmas decorations, a man in Arkansas is gearing up for a much happier holiday in 2021.

This time last year, Chris Kennedy of North Little Rock received a letter from a member of his community who was critical of the 8-foot-tall Black Santa he set up in his yard. In it, the neighbor — who identified as white — claimed that Kennedy was “jealous of my race,” and told him to remove the display. He also said Kennedy should “move to a neighborhood out east” with the rest of his “kind.”

Kennedy, who had put up the Santa decoration for the previous three years, was taken aback.

“I’ve done this every year and haven’t had any issues,” he told KARK in 2020.

Since sharing his story, however, Kennedy has received all types of support from friends and strangers, from words of encouragement to more decorations. 

“One of them sent me an inflatable nativity scene where Jesus, Mary and Joseph are all brown,” Kennedy said. 

He’s still got his inflatable Santa, too, but he hasn’t put it up just yet.

“The display is always about my daughter and what she wants,” Kennedy said. “She wants to decorate right now and we haven’t done it yet just because of time, circumstances with work, and honestly a bit of the backlash from last year…”

Despite last year’s letter, Kennedy’s spirits haven’t dampened. He told KARK he’s loved decorating ever since he was a kid.

“My love of Christmas actually comes from growing up and my dad decorating houses back in East Texas,” Chris Kennedy said. 

In addition to decorating, Kennedy is also planning to spread joy as a “certified” Santa himself. Following last year’s incident, Kennedy was invited to Santa Camp with New England’s Santa Society, where he met and learned from other Santas.

“It was just great to meet,” he said. “Four-hundred-plus years of Santa experience, and [to] be encouraged by that group of men.”

Now, Kennedy is all dressed up and ready to go — even taking time to work on his beard. He’s also been invited by the city of North Little Rock to be Santa for their annual Northern Lights Festival.

Kennedy is also planning virtual Santa visits beginning this week, before hosting more community events as “Santa” next month

“I know there are little kids out there that look like me, that will get to see a Santa that looks like them and that’s what brings me the most joy,” said Kennedy, who credited his wife and daughter with being his inspiration.

“My daughter is super excited. She is excited to become my elf,” Kennedy said.