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Santa On A Screen? Just One Of Many Changes This Pandemic Holiday Season

BSPR/Troy Oppie

Virtual Santa visits, masks, reservations and wax-sealed letters: There's plenty of changes at Santa's workshop this holiday and some will outlast the pandemic.

My girls were eager to meet with Santa, virtual or not. After a few hours of bouncing off the walls in anticipation (use of that phrase shows that I’ve now fully become my parents), they giggled happily when Santa appeared on their screen, via Zoom, this week.

Like all of us, Santa had to make some changes this year. While Doctor Anthony Fauci said he -personally- went to the North Pole to give the big guy one of the first COVID-19 vaccinations, Santa’s still been playing it safe.

About 45% fewer children are connecting with Santa this year, said Steve Bordeleau, AmuzeMatte regional vice president. The southern California company has worked with the North Pole to get kids in front of Santa for more than two decades.

“It's significant,” Bordeleau said of the decline this year. “The virtual visits have not made up 10% of that.”

AmuzeMatte brings Santa to more than 80 malls in 19 states. The company’s work with the Easter Bunny this spring laid the groundwork for virtual visits this Christmas.

“By the 28th of March, we had started partnering with Zoom,” Bordeleau said. The company married its own scheduling software with Zoom to get Santa beamed in if customers weren’t willing to come visit in person. “From a logistics standpoint, it was a challenge both for the live visit and for the virtual visits,” he said.

For $25, kids get five minutes to chat with Saint Nick online. Parents can send an informative note when they make the reservation. Once Santa got comfortable with the tech, Bordeleau said, the experience has gone smoothly.

My kids chatted with Santa about their wish list, of course. Santa reminded them to be nice to others, listen to mom and dad, and to be sure to get to bed on time this Christmas Eve. My girls, aged 4 and 6, loved every minute of it. The visit wraps up with a video copy delivered by email.

In-person visits with Santa are still happening, but with lots of changes. Most notably, most all of Santa's workshops across the country have implemented reservation systems to manage visitors.

“We don’t have lines any more which is amazing,” said Debby Smith, marketing director for the Village at Meridian.

She also added a mailbox for kids to connect with Santa, which was a big hit.

“Santa and his elves answer each and every letter that has an address on it, and he seals it with the wax stamp [of] his own Santa Claus initials,” she said.

Smith said planning for a pandemic Christmas began for her in July with lots of tears along the way.

“We just didn’t want to cancel anything else,” she said. “We get together and dream up these experiences and they kind of spiral out of control. And it's just a fun thing to be able to give the community.”

She said Santa’s mailbox circulated between 500-600 letters back and forth from the North Pole this season before time ran out. She plans to bring the feature back next year, even with the hope that things will be back to normal.

Bordeleau said adding reservations to all their locations was very well received, and that will be a lasting change from this pandemic holiday season, too.

“People have been very kind, patient, understanding,” he explained. “The disappointment, obviously, is for the kids. The parents have been understanding and Santa has been disappointed, you know, that's what he lives for.”

Follow Troy Oppie on Twitter @GoodBadOppie for more local news.

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