Shopping Christmas with family and Santa Claus at Shopping Mall


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The pandemic has changed a lot in our lives, and as Christmas approaches, one of them seems to have staying power: virtual visits with Santa Claus.

Zoom or social media visits with St. Nick started as a way to keep the holiday magic alive for young kids as malls and department stores, where Santa visits and photos usually happened, were closed or at limited capacity. In-person visits with Santa were deemed nonessential, and there was no sense in putting Santa actors, who are generally at high risk for COVID-19 because of their age, and children at risk for the disease. 

Now that vaccines are accessible and malls are back open for holiday shoppers, you'd think that virtual Santa visits would fade away, but that's not the case for several reasons. The first is purely practical: no one really wants to wait in a long line at the mall for a visit. Kids get impatient, parents get cranky, and it's not always worth the hassle for a quick, one-minute photo op where your kid ends up screaming. 

@yahoonews A video call service called #SantaHQ lets children meet #SantaClaus at home or in person. #christmas #news #yahoonews ♬ A very warm Christmas song(92213) - Zaworld

The second is health-related. Some parents are still concerned about the coronavirus, of course, but there's another illness going around schools and daycares. Respiratory syncytial virus, known as RSV, is a common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in babies. The hospitalization rate for RSV was four times higher in mid-November than it was at the same time last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC estimates that 6,000-10,000 adults over 65 die each year from RSV, putting Santa at risk too.

A whole economy has popped up for virtual Santa visits that use Zoom, Facetime, Skype, or similar apps for a one-on-one visit with the big guy and maybe even Mrs. Claus. On many of the popular Santa booking sites, prices start at about $30 for a 12-minute visit and go up from there. If you want to book a virtual visit with Hollywood Santa Ed Taylor, who's appeared as Santa in many commercials and holiday events, it costs $100 to $750, depending on the length of the video chat and when you want it to happen. Santa is understandably very busy on Christmas Eve.

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For an experience that can be revisited, many Santas for hire also offer prerecorded videos. You send them your child's name and maybe a few details like what they want for Christmas, and Santa sends along a personalized video. Watching a customized greeting before the kids rip into presents on Christmas morning seems like a better experience than a mall Santa anyway.

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