Sorry, Kids—Sitting on Santa’s Lap Will Be Forbidden in 2020

Plenty of room for a sheet of plexiglass.
Plenty of room for a sheet of plexiglass. / __ drz __, Unsplash

Considering that COVID-19 spreads easily through close contact, it’s no surprise that kids won’t be sitting on Santa Claus’s lap and whispering their wish lists right into his ear this year. But while some seasonal Santas are only holding visits over Zoom this year, you might still be able to say hello to your local mall Santa in person.

“Santa is absolutely coming to the Mall of America this year, but it is going to be a different experience based on the COVID-19 requirements," Jill Renslow, Mall of America’s senior vice president of development and marketing, told WCCO.

Instead of sitting out in the open, the Santa Claus at Minnesota’s Mall of America will be posted up in a workshop, so people can snap family photos at a safe distance. Patrons won’t be able to decide to visit on a whim, either; to cut down on crowds and long lines, all sessions must be booked in advance through the shopping center's website.

Other venues are getting equally creative to make sure kids feel the holiday magic even without a hug from the head elf. At the annual “Sandi Land” event in West Palm Beach, Florida, Santa Claus will hang out inside a snow globe; the Boca Center in Boca Raton, Florida, is using a green screen to make Santa appear in photos. Some exhibits have installed plexiglass barriers to ensure social distancing, and many are requiring masks.

The safety measures are just as much for Santa as they are for visitors. As Rick Rosenthal told the South Florida Sun Sentinel, many of the Santas trained at his Northern Lights Santa Academy in Atlanta are in a high-risk category for COVID-19 as they are older, sometimes overweight men with preexisting conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes.

For older kids, skipping the annual Santa visit might not be a big deal; but their younger siblings may not see it that way. “As adults we might be able to understand the trajectory and plan for COVID-19 while [seeing] the light at the end of the tunnel," Dr. Gigi Chawla, Children’s Minnesota’s chief of general pediatrics, told WCCO. "Kids may live more in the moment and day to day. It's just really, really hard for them if they feel like something is being taken away from them, like the holiday season experience.”

If your local Santa isn’t making an appearance this year—Zoom or otherwise—there are other ways to keep in touch. Thousands of kids write letters to him each year, and many even get responses.