Will Santa be a pandemic casualty this Christmas?

Will Santa be a pandemic casualty this Christmas?

By Tracy Cabrera

JUST a few days more and its September and the start of the so-called ‘ber’ months—a signal for the forthcoming holiday season and Christmas Day. Thoughts are veering towards year-end festivities, but will there be the usual activities like Simbang Gabi and lantern parades?

Questions like these are already being asked because of the ‘new normal’ prevailing given the coronavirus global pandemic and the quarantine restrictions, and what about the time-honored tradition of Father Christmas and children sitting on Santa’s lap to ask for their Christmas wish?

The problem here is how to maintain the strict social distancing guidelines—and Ministry of Fun founding chairman James Lovell has a plan, which he says will allow children to experience the magic of meeting Santa Claus while maintaining safety protocols for the coronavirus crisis.

Lovell has firmly focused his attention on the cold days of winter and this year, as he has done for the past 25, he has already been preparing his 50-strong team of Santas for the coming season after a bumper 2019, when he had about 1,000 bookings.

“Normally we have got most of our bookings in the bag by August. What’s interesting is this year, we are at about half. People haven’t cancelled; they’re just not sure what they can do. There have been mixed messages about what’s allowed. There’s a lot of confusion. People need reassurance that Father Christmas can appear,” he described the uncertainty.

Unlike crammed theatres, which are only partially re-opening to audiences after months of closure, Lovell likens Santa’s grottos to ‘social bubbles’, and venues such as department stores and tourist sites are already well-versed in organizing crowds who flock to see Father Christmas.

“This year they have introduced even tighter controls around crowd management to curb the close-contact spread of the virus,” he disclosed.

“Only three small tweaks to the Santa experience are needed to ensure public safety and reassure worried store owners and parents, rather than postpone it altogether,” he added.

Lovell’s team of Santas will have specially created red velvet and white fur facemasks as part of their costume, which costs up to £1,000 (about 1,100 euros or US$1,300) and includes beards hand-made by theatre props specialists.

Presents will be positioned between Santa and his young visitors to maintain a safe distance, and gifts will be put on a miniature sleigh rather than handed out directly.

For Lovell, it’s essential the trip to see Santa doesn’t become yet another casualty of the global pandemic.

“You can’t have Christmas without Santa,” he enthused. “We have to make this work. It’s very important. A child meeting Father Christmas is a really big deal. We all love the idea that Father Christmas is going to bring us magic. And we deserve it more than ever. It’s been a ghastly year and we need that happiness.”

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