If it’s been said once, it’s been said a thousand times — the holidays look different this year. From parties to Christmas parades and tree lighting ceremonies, many of our beloved seasonal traditions have been canceled or reimagined. Unfortunately, this includes visits with our good friend Jolly Old St. Nick, who is considered high-risk, after all.
After writing about the Legendary Santa University, a Georgia-based school for professional Kris Kringles and helpers, in last year’s November issue, we caught up with Santa Jay, an Acworth resident, to find out what this season looks like for Santa Claus amid the pandemic.
“Things are a little different, a little weirder, but, obviously, all of us in the Santa culture don’t want children to go without Santa this year,” Santa Jay said. “So, we’re trying to reinvent ourselves.”
For starters, there is a professional Santa shortage, since many in the trade are opting out this year. Most Santas are older, and at higher risk of becoming seriously ill if they were to contract the virus, so they simply are choosing to sit out this season.
“I’m booked and staying busy, but obviously trying to stay safe and checking with the venues,” Santa Jay said. “I was booked every weekend in November. It’s a little more risky, but I’m trying to stay safe about it. I’m working with a photographer in Gainesville. Everyone is temperature-checked, wearing masks and I’m taking photos with children, no adults this year. Only one family is allowed in the studio at a time, so the schedule is very limited.
“The Santa this photographer usually works with is sitting out this year, so she reached out to me. I checked out her setup, before I agreed to work with her. I wanted to make sure I would be safe, too. I felt good about it. She books blocks of time and takes photos. The motif this year is Santa in the kitchen baking cookies. She usually works with 250-300 families, but this year she capped it at 150.”
The Santa visits take place in a large studio, with plenty of room for social distancing. Everyone comes in with masks, and the children only take them off for a few minutes for photos, and then put them back on. Only the children are allowed to approach Santa. This isn’t the traditional visit with the bearded fellow, but similar setups will be common at other venues this Christmas. Most shopping malls won’t have Santa available daily, but a few will offer in-person visits and photos on the weekends.
There also are options for families to visit with the big guy virtually. Jingle Ring is an Atlanta-based company that offers virtual Santa visits. Families can go online to reserve a time slot. The company has several Santa Clauses on call, who are dressed in their Santa regalia and have a North Pole-like setup for the background of the virtual visit. This allows children to talk with Santa and take a photo. A lot of Santas are choosing to book only virtual visits this year. The cost for families is competitive with typical prices for photos with Santa.
“This is the year of reinvention,” Santa Jay said. “Hopefully, next year, we’ll be back to normal. I have a couple of home visits scheduled where I’ll read a book, and the children will keep their distance, but maybe come up for a quick photo or something. I don’t want the children to go without Santa this year. I might be putting myself out there a little more, since I’m not doing virtual visits, but I’m also taking certain precautions. I have hand sanitizer on me all the time.”
Santa Jay will return to the Battery again this year for visits with children. However, he will be stationed behind a countertop for a contactless experience. Families still will be able to take photos. Visits with St. Nick at the Battery run until Christmas Eve. The Acworth Santa also partnered with 104.7 The Fish this holiday season. He is doing promos and voice-overs on the air and online, in addition to assisting with the radio station’s annual Christmas Wish program.
“The important thing is that children will still have Santa Claus in their Christmas,” Santa Jay said. “Children will not go without Santa this year.”
You also can find Santa Jay in Ron Cooper’s new photography book, “We Are Santa, Portraits and Profiles.” Fifty professional Santas are featured in the book, including several from the Atlanta area. The author is donating all of the proceeds from the book to the Children’s Hospital Colorado. The book is available on Amazon.