WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The passage of Thanksgiving often signals the beginning of the Christmas season.
This year, many holiday traditions will see changes, including many families’ annual visit with Santa Claus.
Local events like Enchanted Airlie are going without an appearance with Santa while some shopping centers are adding virtual visits with Father Christmas. Mayfaire and Independence Mall both will still host in-person visits with Santa.
“Visits with Santa will be completely contactless this year. Families will be required to sit six feet apart from Santa and required to wear a mask before, during and after their pictures,” said Mayfaire marketing director Paige Coniglio.
Children will be seated on a bench decorated to look like a Christmas present for their photos. You also must have an appointment to visit with Santa, allowing workers to control crowds and space out families in line. Acrylic barriers are up at the payment kiosks and sanitizing stations are set up throughout Santa’s workshop.
Santa himself even agrees the added precautions are critical this year to protect everyone.
“Christmas is different because of the pandemic and that means in the simplest of terms it should be a no-touch year for Santa. It really is to everyone’s advantage to not sit on Santa’s knee and to not hug Santa,” said Santa Rick Dean of the Northern Lights Academy.
Following masking and distancing rules is vital this year to prevent Santa’s helpers working in malls across the country from becoming COVID-19 super spreaders, or becoming ill themselves.
“Santas usually have a minimum of two immune compromised situations: they’re 50 pounds overweight and they’re over 65,” explained Santa Rick. “We’re a little chubby, you know. Because of that, they often have high blood pressure or diabetes or heart problems or sleep disorders or lung disorders and...so Santa could be in as many as six or seven high-risk categories, so they really are risking their lives to be there.”
In a year where people are missing extended family or struggling to provide for their households, the cheer that comes with the holiday season is needed more than ever. Santa Rick says as sad as it is to not be able to share hugs with Santa, the coronavirus can’t steal the joy that comes with Christmas.
“This is going to be a great Christmas, no matter what, and things are going to turn out okay. It really is going to be okay. We will be better from this. We will be stronger from this,” said Santa Rick.
Santa arrives at Mayfaire and Independence Mall on Friday, November 26.