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Health Crisis Changes How Santas Meet with Children


Julianna, 3, and Dylan, 5, Lasczak visit with Santa through a transparent barrier at a Bass Pro Shop in Bridgeport, Conn., Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020. Santa Claus is coming to the mall — just don't try to sit on his lap. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Health Crisis Changes How Santas Meet with Children
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The coronavirus health crisis has changed how Santa Claus meets with American children.

Santa now wears a face covering over his white beard. He stays behind a barrier and keeps distance for safety. He meets with children outdoors or online. And some Santas, actually performers who play Santas, just took the season off.

The physical qualities that make the perfect Santa also increase the risks of COVID-19. “Most of us tick all the boxes: We are old, we are overweight, we have diabetes and if we don’t have diabetes, we have heart disease,” said Stephen Arnold. He is the president of IBRBS, a group formerly known as the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas.

Brad Six adjusts his protective face shield as he prepares to work as Santa Claus at Bass Pro Shops, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, in Miami. This is Santa Claus in the Coronavirus Age, where visits are done with layers of protection or moved online.
Brad Six adjusts his protective face shield as he prepares to work as Santa Claus at Bass Pro Shops, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, in Miami. This is Santa Claus in the Coronavirus Age, where visits are done with layers of protection or moved online.


Business is hurting

Mitch Allen is president of HireSanta, one of the largest Santa-hiring agencies in the country. He said, “Santa safety is our No. 1 concern” and safety is included into every business agreement.

He added that the coronavirus crisis hurt business at first, but it came back, especially online. The average Santa makes $5,000 to $10,000 during a normal season, Allen said.

Jac Grimes plays Santa in Greensboro, North Carolina. He gave up home visits which make up about a third of his business. He did it not just for his own health, but to prevent passing the virus from one family to the next. At a farmer’s market that he works every year, Grimes and his wife dress up as Santa and Mrs. Claus and sit in a parking area. They talk to people who remain inside their cars.

The virus has many Santas and parents turning to online visits. Those visits often have led many Santas to turn to their children and others for help learning new computer skills. “It has been a challenge,” said Christopher Saunders, a Santa performer in Tool, a small town near Dallas, Texas. But Saunders and others say online visits are a good, if imperfect, replacement for in-person visits.

Even Santas with the best jobs are hurting. Howard Graham has played Santa for eight years at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. The place is known for its famous Christmas show with the Rockettes, a dance group. This year, he is doing online visits and working five days with a historic railroad in Pennsylvania. “I love what I do ... bringing them (children) a little bit of smiles and hope,” said Graham.

Theo and Sophy Morris, visiting from Hawaii with their family, pose for a photograph with Santa Claus, who is sitting behind a transparent barrier, at Bass Pro Shops, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, in Miami.
Theo and Sophy Morris, visiting from Hawaii with their family, pose for a photograph with Santa Claus, who is sitting behind a transparent barrier, at Bass Pro Shops, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, in Miami.


“The kids are excited and that’s what matters”

Brad Six first played Santa 35 years ago. He recently sat on Santa’s chair for three hours at a shop in Miami. As families sat in front of a plexiglass barrier for photos, Six turned his head so that his face shield did not reflect the camera’s light. He happily waved children around the barrier so they could tell him their wish list – from a distance about 1.8 meters away. As he wished them a Merry Christmas, an elf cleaned the area for the next group.

Six said the situation is “a little easier physically on Santa’s back because he doesn’t have to pick anybody up, but it’s not as enjoyable because Santa doesn’t get the interaction he normally gets.” But for families, sitting with Santa, even if behind a shield, is a bit of normalcy in unusual times.

Paul and Sarah Morris and their children, 5-year-old Theo and 4-year-old Sophy, were among the first to visit Six that night. “This is definitely different,” Sarah Morris said of the situation, “but the kids are excited and that’s what matters.”

I’m John Russell.

The Associated Press reported this story. John Russell adapted it for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

tick – v. to mark (something) with a written tick or check

diabetes -- n. medical: a serious disease in which the body cannot properly control the amount of sugar in your blood because it does not have enough insulin

imperfect – adj. having mistakes or problems : not perfect

plexiglass – n. a clear plastic often used in place of glass

shield – n. something that defends or protects someone or something

elf -- n. a small creature in stories usually with pointed ears and magical powers

interaction n. the act of talking or doing things with other people

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