Santa Claus ain’t comin’ to town — not to Macy’s department stores, at least. Thanks to COVID, this will be the first time in the company’s 159-year history to end the tradition.
“To replicate the magical experience of visiting Macy’s Santaland for children and their families, we will shift to a virtual engagement this year,” said Susan Tercero, Macy’s vice president of Branded Entertainment, in a press release. It will be available online from November 27 to December 24.
The experience is limited to three kids at a time. They are taken through Santa’s village and workshop with virtual elves, where they can look around and play interactive games. At the end, Santa will meet the kids through an interactive video, where they’ll be able to share their wish list, take a selfie, and download to post it.
Yes, it’s Christmas in the time of COVID, but not all companies are following this same policy. In fact, Santa will be visiting some malls. The big difference? Your child won’t be able to sit on his lap. Or touch his beard. Or get anywhere near him.
COVID Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town
Different malls have different plans for how their Santas will interact with their rabid young fans, but in every case the kiddos will be forced to keep their distance. The luckiest children will get to talk to Santa from across a table, while others will be separated from Saint Nick by plexiglass. And in states with a mask mandate, Santa will even have to put a face covering over that big ol’ beard of his.
“Santa is an important holiday tradition for many families, but we are looking to pivot the experience for safety,” Rocell Viniard, director of portfolio marketing at Brookfield Properties, told CNN. Brookfield is the second largest mall operator in the U.S.
“Every [visit] will be contactless,” Viniard said. “So, kids can sit on wrapped packages near Santa, or across the table from Santa and have a conversation. We can still capture the memory for family photos.”
In some of Brookfield’s malls, Santa will be incorporated into the holiday scenery. For example, in certain locations he’ll be inside a giant picture frame, and in others he’ll appear to be sitting inside a snow globe.
Like Macy’s, Brookfield is also offering families a virtual visit with Santa so you can meet the man and Mrs. Claus without even leaving home. Just make a reservation at ExperienceJingleRing.com.
Other malls, like those operated by Preit on the east coast, will also offer online meet ‘n greets with the man in red. Instead of a photo with Santa, you’ll get a five-minute one-on-one Zoom call with him, and receive a recording of the call as a gift.
Inside Preit’s malls, Santa will be separated from the kids by plexiglass.
“It’s a plexiglass barrier and Santa in each of our locations will sit behind it,” Heather Crowell, spokesperson for Preit, told CNN. “It will have a bench in front of it so kids can sit down and take a photo with Santa.”
Not All Santas Returning
Rick Rosenthal, the dean and cofounder of the Northern Lights Santa Academy (a school for Santas), told CNN that not all Santas are returning. Based on discussions with school graduates, as well as Santas in other locations, he thinks more than 30% of mall Santas who worked last year will not return this winter. And it’s all because of COVID.
“Santas are typically in a minimum of two high-risk categories for the coronavirus,” Rosenthal told CNN. “They are usually individuals over the age of 65 and they are overweight. So even to do this job in a pandemic can be life-threatening.”