Social distancing and face coverings haven’t stopped families from paying Santa Claus a visit in time for Christmas, even if the annual tradition didn’t quite look or feel the same as in years past.
Santa brought a little North Pole magic to TownMall of Westminster this holiday season, and since the day after Thanksgiving he and his elves have transformed part of the main promenade for children and their families to stop by, say hello, and tell him what they wanted for Christmas.
Sarah O’Brien of Hampstead and her 7-year-old daughter Harper were shopping Tuesday evening for a few last-minute gift ideas when Harper spotted a cluster of trees at Center Court in the middle of the mall. Nothing else mattered at that point.
“She was like, ‘Santa!’ We couldn’t get her away from it,” O’Brien said.
Harper barely managed her excitement while standing in a short line to see Santa, who stood in front of his big green chair and waited for kids to give him their Christmas requests. In previous years they would wind up on Santa’s lap, or as close as they can get, but things were a little different amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Everyone wore a mask, from parents and kids to Santa and his mall helpers. Children sat on a green table in front of Santa, who stood behind a small black gate, and posed for a photo, then turned around to talk with St. Nicholas for a few minutes, all while keeping some space between them.
Harper O’Brien seemed even more excited after she chatted with Santa and returned to her mom. She said she asked for a toy dog and a doll, and when Santa Claus told her she was on a nice list for three weeks, the timing seemed perfect. Harper wasn’t keen on having to wear a mask for the meeting, but she did.
“It’s terrible,” she said, surprising her mom.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard her use that word,” O’Brien said.
New Jersey-based Cherry Hill Programs helped host the meet-and-greet event in TownMall, where parents could purchase photos of their kids with Santa Claus, and employees said this year has seen its down days in terms of crowds. But with Christmas fast approaching, Santa’s local elves were hopefully business would pick back up.
The table was cleaned and sanitized after each group of kids came through, and Santa waved to everyone with his white mask hiding most of his beard.
The Tuesday evening crowd was slow but steady in the first hour or so after Santa returned from a break. He’s scheduled to appear from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Christmas Eve before heading back to the North Pole for his Christmas preparations.
Steve and Katie Haines of Keymar brought their family to see Santa with a few days to spare, much to the delight of 7-year-old son Zachary and 4-year-old Austin. The boys are hoping for some Super Mario Legos and a Nintendo Switch under their tree Friday morning.
Paislee Jones, 7, of Westminster, told Santa she wants an LOL Surprise! winter playset, which looks to be a hot commodity when searching the North Pole’s online catalogs. And for her 1-year-old brother Benjamin, Paislee informed Santa he wants a toy dog and a rattle.
Alex Norman, 10, of Westminster, said he had a little trouble hearing Santa’s conversation with him and his siblings, Elizabeth, 4, and baby Emily, as well as friend Tommy Outlaw, 6 of Destin, Florida. But Alex wasn’t letting a mask get in the way of making sure Santa knew he wanted an Oculus Quest 2 virtual reality headset.
Tommy, sporting a blonde Mohawk atop an otherwise buzzed head of hair, said he was hoping for a toy rattlesnake. Elizabeth, meanwhile, asked Santa to bring her a toy kitchen playset.