COVID-19 puts traditional visits with Santa to the test

Living Local

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — The all-American Christmas tradition of getting a photograph with a department store or mall Santa will go on, even if coronavirus restrictions make the experience a little different.

Five of the seven remaining regional shopping malls in Hampton Roads are still welcoming in the “the big guy” in a holiday shopping season like no other.

The key difference, however, will be that Santa’s knee finally gets to rest, as nobody will be able to sit on it.

All in-person experiences will be “contactless” with Santa often sitting behind what is known as a “Santa guard,” according to Mikia Ross, marketing director at Patrick Henry Mall in Newport News.

“We want to make sure we keep Santa safe,” Ross said.

In actuality, the “guard” is a roughly quarter-inch thick plexiglass that sits between Santa and a small bench.

Families sit on the bench for their photographs, which Ross said are taken in such a way to try to make the barrier-less noticeable.

During the photograph, face-coverings are allowed to be removed. Following the photograph, they must immediately go back over one’s nose and mouth.

It is then at Patrick Henry Mall, Santa — also with his mask on — can interact with children from a brief distance and hand them a small gift.

“We wanted to make sure we kept the tradition alive for our community because it is a tradition for families to want to come out and still have that Merry Christmas feeling here at Patrick Henry Mall,” Ross said. “They still want to bring the kids out to have a little bit of normalcy for the family.”

Santa Claus waives to children from behind his “Santa guard” at Patrick Henry Mall in Newport News on Nov. 27, 2020. (WAVY Photo/Brett Hall)

All benches, chairs and the plexiglass are sanitized after each visit.

Reservations are required at all local malls and temperature checks will be conducted before one enters Santa’s set.

“With everything going on, it’s pretty cool they still got it going on,” said Ronald Labrada, who brought his family for a photo with Santa on Black Friday. “It’s pretty good safety how they got everything set up. It’s pretty good.”

His daughter gave the experience a thumbs up when asked by 10 On Your Side.

For his part, Santa said the precautions certainly make it harder to have a connection with each child.

“The intimate experience is gone,” Santa said. “But this is better than not getting to see the children at all.”

Ross said the mall understands some families still are not comfortable with coming inside at all.

“There is also an option you can have a virtual visit with [Santa],” Ross said.

Santa’s Zoom sessions will last five minutes each and can also be reserved on the mall’s website.

Reserve a visit with Santa by clicking on the mall location:

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