If you, like me, ever asked yourself, “What’s next? Santa Claus on Zoom?” during the coronavirus pandemic, let me just say: 2020 is the year of virtual hangouts. It’s now clear that anything can happen on video chat, from work meetings to birthday parties. I can personally attest that I gave my maid of honour speech virtually at my best friend’s wedding — an entire continent away. That said, Santa is indeed on Zoom, perhaps even on a screen near you.
Santa Got Zoom in the North Pole
In the UK — which is currently under lockdown until December 2 — the Children’s Hospice South West has partnered with The Virtual Santa, a new virtual creative Santa team, to offer live and pre-recorded Santa visits via Zoom. Surprisingly, the process is quite streamlined, consisting of booking the visit, saving your Zoom meeting ID and password, and then logging into your magical meeting. Currently, prices start at £9.99 (around $18) and increase weekly, ranging from £12.99 (roughly $23) the first week of December to £49.99 ($90) on Christmas Eve. Ten per cent of every live Zoom call with Santa purchased will be donated to the Children’s Hospice South West.
The UK isn’t the only country offering virtual Santa visits, though. A quick Google search reveals that there are a few other Santas and organisations offering online visits in the U.S. (As always, do your homework and ensure an organisation or vendor is trustworthy before going on a video call with them or giving them your credit card information).
Apparently Santa Is Just as Cheery on Zoom
Although I joked at the beginning of this blog about Santa Claus on Zoom, it is not at all a bad idea. As we all just learned on Thanksgiving, celebrating holidays during the pandemic can be rough because it’s a lot different than what we’re used to. Many times, you can’t carry out your usual holiday activities or see loved ones. At Christmas time, we’ll probably experience the same thing, and children will most especially notice the difference.
Seeing Santa in Person Is Probably Not Low-Risk
The U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has released guidance for holiday celebrations and small gatherings aimed to reduce the spread of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The agency advises people to consider modifying their plans to stay healthy and safe. Low-risk activities included having a small dinner with people in your household or delivering traditional food to family and neighbours using zero contact methods. Meanwhile, high-risk activities included going shopping in crowded stores, attending crowded parades, or attending large indoor gatherings with people outside your household.
The agency has not released specific guidance for Christmas yet, but it stands to reason that standing in crowded lines in an indoor space, such as the shops, so children can meet and take a picture with Santa — which involves getting very close to another person outside your household — probably won’t be considered low-risk.
Editor’s Note: This health advice relates to the current situation in the U.S. Check local advice in Australia here.
Some Stores Are Cancelling In-Person Santa Visits
Nonetheless, traditional meet and greets at other places have been affected by the virus, too. Macy’s, which has hosted Santa at its store in New York City for nearly 160 years, has scrapped in-person visits this year. Macy’s told the Associated Press that more than a quarter of a million people come to visit Santa at its store in New York every year, which makes it difficult to create a safe environment during the pandemic. In a normal year, crowds of people squeeze into tight spaces to visit Santaland, a sort of maze filled with Christmas trees, toy trains and elves, before taking a picture with Santa.
Instead, it will offer virtual visits through its “Macy’s Santaland at Home” experience, which will allow kids to take a tour of Santa’s workshop and take a selfie with him. Santaland will offer other activities, including helping the elves pack his sleigh, and is now live.
But Not All Are Ready to Say Goodbye to In-Person Visits
Not all shops are saying no to in-person Santa visits, though. Ali Slocum, a spokeswoman for Simon Property Group, the biggest mall owner in the U.S., told USA Today that Santa would be available live.
“Santa is coming to a Simon shopping centre near you,” Slocum said.
The AP reports that some big mall owners are also going ahead with in-person visits but will ban kids from sitting on Santa’s lap and make sure they stay 1.5 metres away from him.
This Situation Has Put Santa Performers in a Tight Spot
The pandemic has put Santa performers in a tough situation. As USA Today reports, many Santas count on their end-of-year gigs to make extra cash, and in some cases, a big chunk of their annual income. Mitch Allen, founder of HireSanta.com, which manages a network of about 2,000 performers, told the outlet that a mall Santa with “a real beard, real belly, real laugh” can make between $US5,000 ($6,770) and $US10,000 ($13,540) working in November and December.
Michael Howe, who is a retired public school teacher and has portrayed Santa on and off for 27 years, said the privilege of playing Santa is more important this year because of the unrest in the country, as well as because of the economic and social challenges. For him, the income is “very needed” because he’s not on social security yet, according to USA Today. Yet, it’s still a tough call.
“I want to do personal visits,’’ Howe told the outlet, “but I also want to make sure that I’m safe.’’
Some Santas Fear for Their Safety at In-Person Meet and Greets
Safety is something that other Santa performers have on their minds, according to Allen, from the HireSanta.com booking site. Allen told USA Today that many Santas have told him they don’t want to appear in person because their age and underlying health issues make them more vulnerable to the virus.
Howe, the Santa, told the outlet that he is already doing some virtual work. He’s created hundreds of videos for kids over the past few months in response to requests from parents on his Facebook page. In the videos, Santa tells the kids to wash their hands or even offers reassurance before big events. He also tells them the words we’re all wishing to hear.
“Everything is going to be OK,” Howe tells the children in the videos, per the outlet. “Eventually, we’ll get back to normal. And I can’t wait to see you.”
It’s Christmas. It Doesn’t Matter Whether Your Santa Visit Is In Person or Online
When the pandemic started, we were told that we would have to learn to live with the virus for a while until things got better. In fact, it’s probably because many people have resisted this advice, with behaviours such as not wearing masks or attending large gatherings, that the U.S. is in this mess. Nonetheless, it doesn’t have to be this way: We can still enjoy the holidays and be safe at the same time. So put your favourite Christmas outfit on, gather around the computer and say hello to Santa. After all, the most important thing during the holidays is to share a moment together. It doesn’t matter whether that moment is in person or online.