82-year-old Al Harrison says he was fired from Bonita Lakes Mall about two weeks ago. For the last five years, he had portrayed Santa at the mall.
That all came to an end after he says he was let go for sharing his religion with patrons.
According to Harrison, over the years after a child had taken the picture, and left his seat to look at nearby things, he would ask the parent if he or she knew what the candy cane that he gave their child meant. He told them it symbolized the crucifixion. Then he says he would ask the parent if he or she knew his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Up until this year he says he had not had any problems.
"I was telling this to a young lady and whenever I asked her, 'Do you have him?' She told me, 'I didn't come for nothing but a picture,' and she walked out. And I feel that that is the one that caused me to get fired," said Harrison.
Harrison says he was fired just hours after this incident. During the five years while serving as Santa at the mall, he says he had been told that the mall did not want the liability behind his actions. Despite this, he says he always had talked with parents about his beliefs and prior to being fired had never had any problems.
"Were you surprised? A little bit 'Yes,' but after seeing the woman I thought that I had maybe messed up. Had given them something to complain about," said Harrison. "I'm not real sure if I want the job back. The only thing that I'm concerned about is that they're shutting off Santa Claus. They're cutting Christ out of Christmas."
Renee Williams, who is the general manager for Bonita Lakes Mall, says each year the mall contracts with an outside company to provide the Santas.
Newscenter 11 received an e-mail from Cherry Hill Photo of Marlton, New Jersey:
"The person portraying Santa at the mall was not terminated. He was simply suspended pending further investigation. He was, in fact, asked to return to his position at the mall."
Ed Warchol, president
Cherry Hill Photo
Harrison confirmed this around noon Christmas Eve. Of course, the mall closes at 6 p.m. Christmas Eve.