For the first time in almost 160 years, Santa Claus will not be appearing at the Macy's department store chain. The yuletide tradition will be skipped this year amid concerns that it would be almost impossible to socially distance from kids who need to sit on Santa's lap. The company will instead set up a virtual experience that will allow up to three kids at a time to see Santa on a video conference. Given the history and prestige of the Macy's Santa Claus, it's likely that this move will signal a broader trend among retailers and other institutions that typically have seasonal Santa performers.
Still, there are already malls who are planning to have their own in-person Santa Claus visits. How that will work will likely vary by the location.
"To replicate the magical experience of visiting Macy's Santaland for children and their families, we will shift to a virtual engagement this year," Susan Tercero, Macy's vice president of Branded Entertainment, said in a statement (via CNN).
The virtual experience will take place online, from November 27 through December 24. It will be more than just a visit to tell Santa what you want, with an "experience" that starts with elves and winds its way through Santa's village and workshop, according to the CNN piece. And while photos with Santa have been a big moneymaker for years, this year will see selfies with the jolly old elf, which Macy's says families can download immediately. It is not entirely clear, but the phrasing makes it sound like the downloads will be free.
Macy's also recently announced a reduced-capacity, mostly-virtual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, marking the first time in generations that the parade won't wind through crowded Manhattan streets. The Macy's Santa will be a part of that parade, even in its covid-friendly form.
New York, where Macy's is headquartered, was one of the earliest cities to be badly hit by the pandemic, but has bounced back significantly and is seem by many as a model for covid response in a densely-populated city. Earlier this month, New York Comic Con -- which typically takes place at the Javits Center in Manhattan in early October -- also went virtual.