For the 50+ Traveler

Being safe and protecting your family from the coronavirus doesn’t mean your kids and grandkids can’t see Santa Claus this year -- although it won’t quite be the same experience as it has been in the past.

Indeed, “Santa” Stephen Arnold, president and chief executive officer of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas, told CNBC that the Santa experience is going to be “considerably different” for his organization’s some 2,000 members, who work at malls, schools, hospitals, churches, and even make one-on-one visits to homes. For one thing, the number of “virtual visits have exploded,” he said.

Here’s one example, Santa Claus has been at Macy’s department store for nearly 160 years. Macy’s even played a prominent role in the 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street, in which a girl discovers the real Santa inside the store.

This year, Macy’s will have Santaland, but due to COVID-19, it will be a different experience. Instead of a live Santa Claus, the store will launch its online Santa experience on Friday, November 27 for families looking for holiday-related activities they can do at home.

Some shopping malls are taking a similar approach. For example, Northbrook Court in Northbrook, IL, will offer what it calls Virtual Visits with Santa at Home this year.

Now through January 7, families can reserve a JingleRing virtual visit with Santa, so kids can receive a pre-recorded video from Santa based on information people provide in their family profile when they book the call.

Some malls and stores will still have Santa Claus for in-person visits. For instance, Brookfield Properties, a subsidiary of Brookfield Asset Management (BAM) Property Partners and the second-largest mall operator in the country, says Santa will be in 134 of its more than 150 malls.

“Santa is an important holiday tradition for many families, but we are looking to pivot the experience for safety,” Rocell Viniard, director of portfolio marketing with Brookfield Properties, told CNN. The idea, she said, is to enable a “touchless experience” with Santa.

That means Santa will also wear a mask in states with a mask mandate, and guests will be required to do the same, Viniard said. In states with no mask requirement, Santa can wear a mask if he wants to. Social distancing stickers will show people where to stand in the area, and many properties will have special decor that keeps people six feet away from Santa.

While children can’t sit on Santa’s lap, they can sit on wrapped packages near Santa, or sit across the table from Santa and talk to him.

“We can still capture the memory for family photos,” Viniard said.

Outdoor retailer Bass Pro Shops stores will also have Santa Claus, but he will be behind a sheet of plexiglass. The reimagined Santa’s Wonderland will prioritize everyone’s safety.

“This year has been incredibly difficult for so many kids and families,” said Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris. “With countless activities canceled and many families dealing with added stress, we feel it’s more important than ever to provide some free Christmas magic and help safely create cherished holiday memories.”

To promote safe visits, the stores will use a number of safety protocols, including advanced digital reservations so the stores can enforce appropriate physical distancing and allow time for additional cleaning, temperature screening of all families and team members with a non-contact thermometer, and a plexiglass shield between Santa and families for a contactless experience.

We are glad that one way or another, there are options for everyone to see Santa this year. For more holiday goodies, check out all our holiday travel content.