The COVID-19 pandemic may have forced cancellation of myriad events and activities around the world, but there’s one Christmas tradition officials at Semiahmoo Shopping Centre won’t let it stand in the way of – visits with Santa.
“We need to hang on to a few of our traditions this year,” marketing director Jeri Cox said.
“The visit with Santa, I just think was really important. Something to keep things somewhat the same.”
However, a few key changes did have to be implemented – including an end, at least for this year, to sitting on Santa’s knee.
Santa won’t be holding court in his usual post in the shopping centre common area out front of Purdy’s and Winners; instead, he’ll be in a vacant store space near Save-On-Foods (the site formerly home to Flight Centre) that has been decorated for the season and set up to comply with COVID-19 safety protocols.
Visitors young and old will have to wear a mask, use hand sanitizer and have their temperature taken before entering; then, they’ll be directed to stand on footprints located a safe distance from Santa, and turn to pose for their photo.
Santa won’t be masked, Cox said, “but he will be protected.”
“Nobody will be sitting with him, and they won’t be sitting down. There will be no surfaces to touch,” she said.
“I just think it’s the only way we can have it happen this year.”
Wish lists won’t be whispered into Santa’s ear, but he will still get them, Cox added. Children are asked to write down what they’d like to find under the tree, and pop the list into Santa’s mailbox during their visit. The letters will be given to his elves for Santa to read at the North Pole.
As well, photos this year must be booked in advance online, through a link on the shopping centre’s website.
“We just can’t have the lineups,” Cox explained.
And while it may have taken some time, energy and creativity to co-ordinate, Cox said there is a “beautiful” aspect to this year’s Santa story.
She explained that she reached out to a contractor who was working on a new restaurant that is coming to the shopping centre, and asked for a quote on helping transform Santa’s space.
“He came back into my office 10 minutes later and said, ‘I can’t quote you on this job,’” Cox said of Daikon Construction’s Paul Roberts. “He said, ‘My paint supply company’s donated the paint and I’m going to donate my time, and we’re going to do this for free, because it’s for Santa.’
“I just thought it was very sweet… something that’s really nice right now.”
The Jolly Old Elf is set to arrive at the 1701 152 St. shopping centre on Nov. 21, and will be available for photos daily from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2-5 p.m., until Christmas Eve. On Thursdays and Fridays, there will be an additional two-hour opportunity in the evenings, from 6-8 p.m. Those evening hours will also be in effect on Dec. 21, 22 and 23.
Cox noted there will be “a couple” of open times for people who show up without appointments, however, they will be directed to customer service first and advised as to what time slots are available and when to return.
Regardless of the changes, Cox said the spirit of the tradition remains true.
“It will be a beautiful memory, a Christmas memory for them of this very interesting year,” she said.
“We just know how important it is that people who have those photos with Santa… the image that’s the memory of the children in each of those years, and you just don’t want to miss this year – especially this year.”