For months many have struggled with how to do our jobs in the age of COVID-19. We wear masks, we socially distance and we quarantine. As Christmas approaches, one person faces extra challenges as his job is to travel extensively and have close contact with millions ꟷ Santa Claus.
How will Santa Claus do his job?
Children anxiously await the opportunity to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him, in strict confidence, what they want for Christmas, take a picture and get a candy cane. But COVID has reared its ugly head.
A face mask won’t work with his full bushy beard and it’s hard to imagine him sitting on his throne at the mall wearing a red fur-trimmed hazmat suit. Thousands of professional Santa helpers and elves are in a quandary about how to spread the joy of Christmas, while not becoming super-spreaders.
Macy announced that Santa Claus won’t be visiting its stores this year, ending a 159-year holiday season tradition. Santa meet-and-greets won’t be happening this year because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. An interactive virtual experience will happen instead.
Others are finding creative ways to capture the memorable moments with Santa through plexi-glass and video calls “to the North Pole” with Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick.
In your younger years, families may have tracked Santa on the NORAD website (https://www.noradsanta.org/) and recall how excitement built when the reindeer-pulled sled got closer. NORAD still tracks his progress, but never dreamed that there would come a time when the internet would be one means of reaching Mr. Claus.
Santa’s lap is Off-limits
Despite the challenges of 2020, some still believe that a live visit with Santa can happen both safely and responsibly. Melissa Cavanagh, senior marketing director for West Towne, East Towne, Brookfield Square and CherryVale malls talked about the steps they are taking.
“Yes! Santa Claus IS still coming to town!” she elaborated. “Though visits with him will look a little different than in years past.”
This season, Santa arrives on Black Friday, Nov. 27 and visits will be contactless, with families sitting six feet away to ensure proper social distancing. All guests must schedule visits with Santa using an online reservation platform (visit mall websites for details). Select a date and time, purchase a photo package, and be ready for the unique 2020 Santa photo experience.
Walk-ups will be allowed during the first and last hour of the day, time permitting. All visitors must wear masks before, during and after photos, Cavanagh said.
Contactless Santa Visit
For the last 38 years, Susen Mesco, founder and director of the Professional Santa School in Denver, Colorado, has developed a training program for virtual Santa visits, and to-date, Santa and 800 Santa helpers have taken the course.
Since March, Mesco realized that she needed to infuse much more entertainment into the course as it became apparent that virtual visits were going to be the direction that Santa had to take. And those visits had to be more engaging. Since that time, she has worked with Santa and 150 of the nation’s top performing Santa helpers to improve their virtual skills.
She said she believes that in-person visits with Santa are not the way to go this year. “Many of our Santa helpers are a little bit older and some of them have health issues, so exposing themselves to the virus and passing it around is not going to work,” Mesco said.
She has expanded www.SantaVisitsUSA.com to include thousands of hours of content and 1,200 videos including story times with sing-alongs, virtual tea parties, Christmas traditions, crafts and more. There is also an eight week Good Behavior Program (www.MySantaReports.com) in which children can participate. Best of all, it’s free of charge to our readers using the code UMOJA20.
Seeing Santa on a screen may not replace the thrill of seeing him in person. But, one thing is certain, on Christmas Eve, Santa will make his usual rounds and, being magical, he’ll keep everyone safe while leaving presents under the tree.