Ho-ho-how will Santa Claus discover his solution to the children this 12 months? | Artwork + leisure | Pittsburgh

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CP Illustration: Abbie Adams

The statement that the holidays look very different than in previous years has become a cliché at this point. But for people like Lance Skapura, a professional Santa who has performed in and around Pittsburgh for the past seven years, the red feel still carries a lot of weight.

“Everything is a bit darker than in a normal year,” says Skapura, describing the attitude towards private home visits, where according to the contract everyone has to wear a mask and comply with the COVID-19 safety guidelines. “Whenever you come into the apartment, it’s not the explosion of anticipation that it has been in recent years.”

As cases continue to rise, the common practice of children having one-on-one conversations with Santa has been rightly put on hold. In Pittsburgh and across the country, the usual personal experiences – including a mandatory photo of a child most likely yelling on the lap of a red-clad actor – have been canceled, replaced with virtual or heavily modified alternatives.

Skapura is one of the ways parents and caregivers are still trying to bring joy to their young family members this holiday season while they are still grappling with and perhaps addressing the realities of the pandemic. Skapura, who returned to his regular appearance at the Waterfront Mall in Homestead, said that instead of avoiding the issue, it incorporated safe COVID-19 practices into his visits with children.

“When we visit kids, we record some things about the pandemic so that they feel like Santa’s reality is the reality they live in,” he says, adding how young visitors learn and experience a hand washing song They are put on the “nice list” for wearing their masks and making sure to practice social distancing.

Skapura says he also talks to children about a glass separator and that all children must wear masks no matter what.

There is also the problem of children worrying about Santa Claus getting sick, which, according to Skapura, was approached by creative means.

“Telling DR. Fauci that Santa Claus is immune was a great help,” laughs Skapura. Add to this the myth that Santa Claus is “half-elf” and is therefore immune to the COVID-19 virus.

While the time-honored tradition of the Santas mall seems like a no-go, some are still trying to lead them through the crisis. Kristina Circelli, Marketing Director at Monroeville Mall, says people asked about Santa in September and wanted to know what the Christmas season would be like and if they could still take photos.

To avoid long lines and crowds, according to Circelli, the mall has implemented an online system that allows visitors to reserve a time to meet Santa Claus. A press release states that all visitors must also wear masks before, during and after photos.

Despite these safeguards, however, some experiences with Santa Claus in Pittsburgh have been suspended, particularly after Governor Tom Wolf’s final order last week. This includes the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, which decides to end the Santa Zoom experience, as well as the closure of the annual Peoples Gas Holiday Market in downtown.

Jeremy Waldrup, CEO and President of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, says that “the health and wellbeing of downtown visitors was a priority in implementing this season’s programs and attractions,” but the vacation market needed to be cut, but we understand how important it is to comply with these new requirements for the safety of our customers and suppliers. ”

Virtual visits are available for those who are still concerned about exposure to the virus, an option that many companies are happy to embrace. According to Circelli, the mall offers virtual Santa Claus visits through Cherry Hill Programs, a third-party company dubbed the “Industry Leader in Experience Photography” that offers vacation experiences in “over 800 locations in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico during the Christmas holidays and Easter. ”

Currently, Cherry Hill is offering Create Holiday Magic packages where kids can get a personalized VIP live video visit with Santa from the North Pole, also known as Cherry Hill Corporate Headquarters, for the low price of $ 59.99, of whom one The neighborhood has been heavily rebuilt to resemble the headquarters of the jolly old elf. Other benefits include digital photos with Santa Claus, a sugar cookie kit, a book with the Christmas story, and much more.

Graham McFarland, Cherry Hill’s chief technology officer, said the virtual experience came after the company surveyed its customers back in May and found that 30% of them “may not feel comfortable doing the this year Visit Santa Claus or may not be available due to restrictions “.

“We used this information to accelerate our plans for a digital platform that would give our customers alternatives and options this Christmas season,” says McFarland.

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Santa cast member, Lance Skapura - PHOTO: 9ORANGE PHOTOGRAPHY

Photo: 9Orange Photography

Santa cast member, Lance Skapura

Much like Cherry Hill, Orlando-based marketing agency 82 South can put kids in touch with the big man through Chit-Chat With Santa, a 10-minute live interactive video call priced at $ 35. There’s also a 15-minute get-together for a similar price where Mrs. Claus reads one of three Christmas stories.

Skapura says the ability to conduct virtual visits made a huge difference for him as he lost a significant portion of his income. This includes the complete loss of corporate parties, which he believes is about 20% of his business.

“I’ve let many customers go for a long time because they want to keep having an old-fashioned Christmas, and we have to live up to social distancing and masking to make sure the kids are safe,” he tells Skapura.

Many of his contemporaries were not so lucky. Skapura is part of You Sleigh Me, a social organization of about 50 professional Santa Clauses, Mrs. Clauses, and other holiday artists from West Pa., Ohio, and West Virginia. The group is a member of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santa Clauses, which includes 2,200 actors, many of whom are committed to preserving real facial hair and other physical features to look more like Santa Claus.

Skapura, who defines himself as a “real beard and belly Santa Claus,” says the pandemic has caused some Santa cast members to quit.

“It’s heartbreaking because some people who are older and have more medical problems hung up the suit this year,” Skapura insists that forced retirement means more than losing a source of income. “In this church, it’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle. … You are Santa Claus 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You look like this all year round. ”

Even so, Skapura says that he and his colleagues are committed to bringing joy to children and families, even if it means breaking with tradition. This includes doing without the typical red velvet suit of Santa Claus, as the costume has to be dry cleaned and therefore cannot be washed repeatedly in order to rid the fabric of viral contamination. According to Skapura, visitors will see Santa Clauses wearing more durable, washable cotton clothing like overalls.

While precautions such as requiring masks and costume changes are key to keeping him safe and healthy, Skapura says he is more concerned about the people he serves.

“I know that I like it as much as everyone else,” says Skapura. “I just don’t want to be a spreader for kids.”

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