Here is how this year’s visit with Santa Claus will be different

Next up on the holiday calendar is Christmas. In normal years, cities across the country hold Thanksgiving Day parades and the very last float is a Santa Claus-themed one. Santa ushers in the Christmas holiday season. This year as families prepare for Christmas, a visit with Santa Claus for their children will be different because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The coronavirus pandemic has drastically altered how Americans have celebrated every holiday since Easter. A visit with Santa Claus is still possible this year but it is going to be unusual. It will be important to plan ahead. Unlike in past years, you may not be able to simply show up at a mall or other public place and wait in line to visit with Santa. There will be no placing little ones on Santa’s lap so that Christmas wishes can be discussed and a keepsake photograph can be snapped. Some innovative ways of having a socially-distanced experience will be in effect.

Santa Claus is a high-risk guy for the coronavirus because of his age and belly like a bowl full of jelly, so an in-person visit will require face masks and will likely include plexiglass. Some stores have already canceled in-store visits to maintain crowd control.

Kids will instead tell Santa what they want for Christmas from six feet away, and sometimes from behind a sheet of plexiglass. Santa and his visitors may need to wear a face mask, even while posing for photos. And some malls will put faux gift boxes and other decorations in front of Saint Nick to block kids from charging toward him.

Other safety measures include online reservations to cut down on lines, workers wiping down holiday-decorated sets, and hand sanitizer aplenty. Santa’s hours are also getting cut to give him a break from crowds.

Macy’s canceled its in-person visits this year, saying it couldn’t provide a safe environment for the more than 250,000 people that show up to see Kriss Kringle at its New York flagship store.

Malls have struggled this year because of coronavirus lockdowns so an effort is being made to accommodate Santa’s visitors in order to encourage shoppers to get out and resist only shopping online. Santa brings people to the mall. According to GlobalData Retail, more than 10 million U.S. households visited Santa in a mall or store last year. The majority of those visitors then went to nearby restaurants or stores. Santa is good for foot traffic.

Some malls are holding off a bit this year and scheduling appearances by Santa later. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Plexiglass barriers don’t look good in photographs so some malls are deciding against that option. How about Santa in a snow globe?

Mall operator CBL, which filed for bankruptcy earlier this month, plans to bring Santa to nearly 60 malls at the end of November, about three weeks later than last year. The company decided against a plexiglass barrier because it didn’t look right in photos. But Santa will be socially distanced and wear a face mask. He may also put on a plastic shield to protect his face.

“We’re doing everything possible so that he stays healthy,” says Mary Lynn Morse, CBL’s marketing vice president.

Mall owner Brookfield started planning in-person Santa visits at 130 of its shopping centers in April, opting for sleighs and gift boxes where visitors can sit away from Santa. At one of its malls, The SoNo Collection in Norwalk, Connecticut, a round piece of plexiglass will be placed in front of Santa so it looks like he’s inside a snow globe.

For those who don’t feel comfortable visiting a mall, other options are available. How about a Zoom call with Santa? It sounds kind of depressing but that’s how we do things in the year of the plague. And, there is a virtual Santa company called JingleRing. Who knew? JingleRing gives people a way to chat with Santa from home.

One Santa is skipping the mall experience this year and doing video calls with children instead. He’s training other Santas to get them ready for their own video calls.

Ed Taylor, a Santa who typically spends several months in Los Angeles filming TV spots and making mall appearances, will stay at home in southern Oregon this year.

“When you think about the high risk profile for COVID, you’re kind of drawing a picture of Santa,” Taylor says.

He’ll be doing video calls with families and has been holding online classes to get other Santas camera-ready. Meeting kids virtually means getting them to speak up more, since the calls usually run seven minutes — about twice as long as mall visits, where the main objective is to snap a good picture.

Sam’s Clubs are offering members the opportunity to book five-minute video visits with Santa free of charge. You can choose a Santa that “best suits your family” and give your child’s name and age in advance for a personalized greeting.

There are personalized letters and postcards available online for children. There is also the old-school way of communicating with Santa Claus available this year. The U.S. Post Office encourages children to mail their Christmas wish lists to Santa.

One tradition that doesn’t have to change (and can always be done safely): sending letters to Santa. The U.S. Postal Service has instructions on how to get a letter from St. Nick himself, postmarked from the North Pole. Follow each step and make sure you send your letters by Dec. 7 so that they can be received in time for Christmas.

Plan ahead. Let’s try to give the little ones as normal of a holiday as possible.

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