Malls have had to create new protocols for how children interact with Santa Claus this year. For one thing, they won’t be sitting on his lap: they’ll wave through Plexiglas.
Safety is the priority and often times the exchanges are contactless, but there is something warmly wonderful about the effort being made by so many adults to ensure that the magic of Christmas be realized for young children in spite of a global pandemic. The annual visit to share a wish list in person with Santa is a staple of the Christmas season being reimagined this year so that children will have at least one aspect of normalcy in a year that has provided little.
Mitch Allen launched HireSanta.com in 2012 to create a central clearing house for those individuals who uniquely qualify to play Santa each year and those businesses, malls, retailers, private parties and homes who are looking to hire a Santa. The company was featured on the TV show Shark Tank. He says this year has presented unique challenges as another wave of the coronavirus crests in time for Christmas, and he’s been working with manufacturers to build in safeguards designed to keep children, families, and Santa, all safe. “We’re working with a manufacturer on what we’re calling a ‘Santa shield,’ which is an acrylic shield between Santa and the child and keeps everyone safe, and in the picture you don’t even see that it’s there.” Because more often than not, it’s about the picture.
Allen adds that the individuals who play the role of Santa are usually elderly men with a generally wide girth, which puts them at particular risk for complications if they contact the Covid 19 virus. The opportunity to meet with children virtually, online, one of the most popular choices this year, keeps everyone, especially Santa, safe. “They’re in the comfort of their home. They’re able to do these visits online and spread the joy and the love of the season.”
Malls have picked up on the idea. In Houston, Memorial City Mall is keeping up with all the traditions, offering what they call “santa-tized” sets after each visit, and plenty of hand “santa-tizers” for those who visit Santa in person at St. Nick’s Park. They’re still do pet pictures as well, have special days with lower sensory stimulation, and offer an opportunity to Zoom with the jolly old man in red. Reservations are required.
Masks are required, and often reservations, but in-person Santa’s are available in the Houston area at the Galleria, Baybrook, Willowbrook, and Deerbrook malls.
photo courtesy of Getty Images