Breathe a sigh of relief—according to B.C.'s provincial health officer, Santa Claus is "probably" immune to COVID-19.
But even still, the holiday season will look a little different this year. While the man in the red suit will likely avoid snacking on the milk and cookies at every house he drops by this Christmas Eve, he'll also be avoiding the in-person visits and photos that normally take place at Metro Vancouver malls each December—at least in their typical format.
Many shopping centres are taking a hiatus from the festivities this year and letting Santa enjoy a well-deserved rest, while others have thought up new ways for kids to safely connect with Kris Kringle ahead of the big day, either virtually or in person.
Keep in mind that things may change along with COVID-19 restrictions, but here's how Santa is currently planning on accepting visitors in the lead up to Dec. 25th.
Santa Claus is still coming to town—for physically-distanced visits
At Park Royal in West Vancouver, families are invited to join Santa in "the magical holiday atmosphere at The North Pole Picture Co." for a distanced chat, during which kids will be able to relay their Christmas wishlists. Though Santa will only be available for these visits, and will not be able to sit with for photos at Park Royal due to COVID-19 safety protocols, families can still capture a memory following their meet-and-greet with the big guy.
Following their visit, families can sit for 10-minute portrait sessions at the pop-up photo shop with the festive background of their choice. (Those interested in snapping photos with multiple backgrounds are asked to book more than one appointment.)
(UPDATE 11/28/20: Holiday Photos at Highstreet in Abbotsford are suspended for the remainder of the season. According to the shopping centre's website, Highstreet "has been asked by the Fraser Health Authority to suspend our Holiday Photos indefinitely due to the latest provincial health order regarding indoor holiday activities.")
Initially, HighStreet in Abbotsford planned to work a Plexiglass-gondola into the mix when it came to holiday photos this year. Families were able to book an appointment for Santa’s Shop, where they can snap "a socially-distanced photo with Santa."
Surrey's Semiahmoo Shopping Centre will welcome Santa for photos, but you won't be able to take a seat on his knee as per usual. Photos with Santa at Semiahmoo are by appointment only, and masks must be worn, except while your photo is being taken.
In Burnaby, extra precautions are being taken as two Shape Properties-owned malls prepare to have Santa return for Christmas photo sessions.
(UPDATE 11/28/20: Photos with Santa at the Lougheed Town Centre have been suspended due to the latest provincial health orders regarding indoor activities, while The Amazing Brentwood has also been directed by Fraser Health Authority to cancel Santa Photos.)
Originally, Santa planned to welcome visitors (from behind Plexiglass) at Lougheed Town Centre from Nov. 21 to Dec. 24 in front of the London Drugs outlet, while the Amazing Brentwood was to host Santa from Nov. 28 to Dec. 24 on the upper level.
Online alternatives: Zoom straight to the North Pole
Many traditions and festivities have moved online this year, and pre-Christmas chats with Santa are no exception.
Willowbrook Shopping Centre in Langley is facilitating free, one-on-one video calls with the man in red this holiday season, inviting families to join Santa on a call from the comfort of their own home. (Reserve a time-slot for your preferred date and time, or get more information here.)
Activity at at Vancouver's Oakridge Centre might limited these days, but that doesn't mean the holidays are on hold. The majority of retailers at the Centre closed their doors earlier this fall due to the extensive redevelopment project that's currently underway, but "we wanted to keep the magic of Christmas and Santa alive for the little ones in our community," said a spokesperson for the Centre.
The Centre is taking their holiday programming online this year, but is maintaining its high-end feel: "Reporting from his luxe studio at The Fairmont Pacific Rim, Santa will be available virtually from December 17th to 23rd for memorable one-on-ones from the comfort of your home," reads a statement posted to Oakridge's website.
"Because you’re on Santa’s glam list," those booked in to chat with Santa will receive an exclusive Oakridge holiday gift box packed with decadent Belgian hot chocolate, gourmet handcrafted marshmallows, and more, complimentary with a virtual booking.
Meanwhile, mall operator Cadillac Fairview (which operates Vancouver's Richmond Centre and Pacific Centre) is inviting Vancouver families to gather around the screen at home and tune into Facebook Live for a series of magical storytime readings, all the way from the North Pole. The four complimentary live-streamed storytime sessions with Santa will take place on Saturday, Nov. 28, Saturday, Dec. 5, Saturday, Dec. 12 and Sunday, Dec. 20, all kicking off at 6:30 p.m. and lasting for about 20 minutes.
The company is also offering free, printable activities like colouring sheets, letters and wishlists for Santa, and even "Nice List certificates."
It isn't just malls and businesses that are finding creative ways to connect with Santa during COVID-19. A Winnipeg mom named Sharon Knutson was recently inspired to spearhead the creation of the Santa Pics App.
According to the release, the innovative app "uses augmented reality to allow people to pose for a picture or dance with Santa Claus, keeping Christmas traditions alive and allowing families to have some fun together – from the safety and comfort of their own home."
Santa Pics App users can save their pictures and videos to their phone or tablet, share them on social media, or send professional-quality prints to loved ones.
As Knutson explained in a release,“I just couldn’t let COVID-19 take one more thing from us and our family. I didn’t want to see moms and dads and kids risk getting sick at the mall. I think the Santa Pics App will really help us all stay safe, do our part and have some fun when we need it the most,”
Families can also schedule live, personalized video calls with Santa at fromsanta.ca, with all profits going toward the SickKids Foundation in Toronto.
Pictures with Santa on holiday hiatus for 2020
With many shopping centres opting to cancel their holiday programming entirely, it might be easier to mail your Christmas list to the North Pole rather than tell Santa himself what you'd like to find under the tree.
Burnaby's Metropolis at Metrotown has opted not to host picture-taking with Santa this year due to COVID-19, as has the Coquitlam Centre. Amidst the ongoing pandemic, the mall, operated by Morguard Investments, has decided to cancel all of its Christmas public events this year.
Abbotsford's Sevenoaks Shopping Centre has also decided to cancel all of its public events, including the in-person Santa photo experience, for this holiday season, as has Tsawwassen Mills. "The health and safety of our customers, tenants and employees continues to be our number one priority as we head into the holiday shopping season," reads a statement posted to the mall's website.
The Guildford Town Centre in Surrey is also cancelling its holiday programming, including photos with Santa and mini-portrait sessions. According to a statement posted to the mall's website, The North Pole Picture Co. will be processing refunds for all reservation fees.
A representative for Lansdowne Mall in Richmond also told V.I.A. that Santa photos will not be available to the public this year.
These announcements come following Cadillac Fairview's decision earlier this month to suspend Santa experiences at its 19 shopping centres across Canada. including the Pacific Centre and Richmond Centre in Metro Vancouver. "While we know this may be disappointing for families who look forward to this annual tradition, we firmly believe this is the best decision," said Craig Flannagan, Cadillac Fairview's vice-president of marketing, in a statement.
"Similar to what we’ve seen with other important events like weddings and birthday parties, we believe this temporary shift to online is the responsible thing to do in a very different year."
Though the mall owner-operator "has a long history of employing Santa’s apprentices in cities across Canada that assist the real Santa Claus with important work of speaking directly with children," the statement continued, "CF’s decision to suspend physical Santa experiences in property will not result in any job losses for Canada’s favourite Santa apprentices."
- With files from the Canadian Press, Chris Campbell/Burnaby Now, and Janis Cleugh/ Tri-City News