A (physically distanced) visit from St. Nicholas

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Admittedly, Santa notes, the window means that children may no longer sit on his lap, but even that frown he manages to turn upside-down: “Some children are happy that they don’t HAVE to sit on Santa’s knee.”

Considering how COVID-19 has managed to compromise just about every human enterprise and gathering, the mall visit to see Der Kringle is one activity that may have improved in 2020. Visits are, for the most part, booked in advance, eliminating the sometimes hours-long lineups, and each visit is longer, affording youngsters more one-on-one time with Santa. In past years, according to Bilal, Santa might entertain between 20 and 30 visits an hour. In 2020, it’s between four and eight.

“We have all the time in the world to get acquainted, to get introduced to each other, and to feel safe with each other,” Santa says. “And, by the end of the session, even the smallest children who are the most shy will end up being really talkative.”

The only drawback for Santa, he says, is that he doesn’t get to hold babies in his arms anymore.

Meanwhile, most visitors don’t seem unduly worried by the new measures. “Most children want to be superheroes. They want to be sure they keep everybody else safe, so when they come in here, they all have their masks, and they want to keep mom and dad and grandma and grandpa safe. So their concern is to be superheroes. And, when they wear their masks, they ARE the greatest superheroes in the world. In this pandemic, they can be heroes every day.”

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