COVID-19: Face masks, plexiglass and drive-through grottos - how Santa's planning on making Christmas this year

·4-min read

You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout I'm telling you why, Santa Claus... may still be coming to town.

Yes, Santa is preparing for his first Christmas during the COVID-19 pandemic, which means changes to the usual grottos, visits and parades.

His age and weight put the "key worker" at high risk of contracting coronavirus, so you won't be able to sit on his knee and he may be wearing a face mask or be sat behind a screen.

Here's a look at how events are being adapted to keep the jolly tradition alive under current government guidelines.

Grottos

No festivities would be complete without a trip to see the man himself and several attractions like Drusillas Park in East Sussex and shopping centres including Festival Place in Basingstoke are going ahead with plans to bring him back this year.

The Drusillas Park website reads: "Elf and safety have been working hard to sprinkle some Christmas magic in the cottage to make sure it is a COVID-secure experience.

"As you can imagine, it will be a little different from previous years but we've done everything we can to make sure it is still very special while keeping all our visitors and staff safe."

Santa will be behind a plexiglass screen and will not be handling gifts, instead children will sit on a socially-distanced bench and collect a present from a toy chest themselves.

His cottage - which will be regularly disinfected - has been doubled in size to allow plenty of space and new extractor fans have been installed to help with air ventilation.

Other safety measures at the zoo include online reservations, hand sanitiser and a one-way route.

At Festival Place, families will need to remain 1.5m from Santa and his elves who will be wearing face masks, and they will be invited to select their own present from Santa's sack or receive one from the elf.

The virtual experience

Some businesses have switched from physical meetings to online ones.

For one day only, youngsters will be able to have a 10-12 minute chat with Father Christmas, Mrs Christmas and one of his elves via Zoom - instead of in person at St Albans Museum. The event has been organised by St Albans for Refugees with all proceeds going to the charity.

One children's events company, Wonder Adventures, is hosting a virtual Santa experience through Facebook.

Families will be able to beam Santa from the North Pole into their homes for a virtual chat, stories, sing-a-longs, sleigh ride and treasure hunt.

"Brew up the cocoa, crack out the selection box of biscuits, throw a log on the fire and snuggle up," writes the firm on its Facebook page.

"No need to go anywhere as we bring our interactive Christmas magic to you."

Socially-distanced events

In Scotland, plans are under way for Santa to make socially-distanced visits to areas and some supermarkets (subject to COVID-19 restrictions) across Inverness on his sleigh.

It is hoped the event, organised by the Rotary Club of Inverness Culloden, will raise funds for good causes.

Reindeer Lodge in North Wales is hosting a drive-through reindeer safari, Santa's grotto and Toy Workshop.

Father Christmas will remain outdoors and 2m away from all passing vehicles, and though face masks are not required outdoors under present Welsh government guidelines, visitors will be encouraged to wear them when they have their car windows open.

NORAD to track Santa

The outbreak has taken away a lot of things, but Santa's trackers since 1955 at the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) will continue to work despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Volunteers at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado will continue to field calls on Christmas Eve to tell the mostly young callers where Santa is flying.

But there will be some changes.

This year there will only be a small number of call-handlers so not every child will be able to speak to a volunteer and will instead get a recorded update on the current location of Father Christmas.

However, Santa trackers can visit keep tabs on his whereabouts on the NORAD website, social media pages and mobile app.