Santa still visiting Southcentre Mall this Christmas despite COVID-19

Click to play video 'COVID-19: Knee-sitting out, masks in during visits with Santa this Christmas' COVID-19: Knee-sitting out, masks in during visits with Santa this Christmas
The COVID-19 pandemic is making celebrating all our special occasions a real challenge this year. So, as Gil Tucker shows us, when you stop in for a visit with Santa, you’re in for a real twist on tradition – Nov 13, 2020

It seems COVID-19 can’t stop Santa Claus from leaving the North Pole and travelling to Calgary to meet with kids at Southcentre Mall.

Officials with the shopping centre announced on Tuesday that children will still have the chance to meet Old Saint Nick this year, though the experience will be different than it was in the past.

This year, visits with Santa begin earlier than usual, on Friday, Nov. 13.

Read more: $12k gold chain stolen from Michael Hill jewelry store at Southcentre Mall

To help keep him safe, visitors will be able to have photos taken with him at a brand-new Santa set on the second level of the mall just outside of Hudson’s Bay.

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In a news release, Southcentre Mall says the new set will offer “the same magical experience” for families, “while ensuring all guests remain safely distanced.”

It includes one-way traffic, designated entrance and exit points, waiting zones and minimal touchpoints as well as temperature checks and mandatory hand sanitization upon entry

Guests will travel through a Christmas tree farm and make their way to St. Nick’s shiny red truck to have their photo taken next to a mask-wearing Mr. Claus.

Santa will be behind the wheel of the truck and won’t get out to visit with families. Instead, he will wave through the window.

Families will be able to get a socially-distant photo with Santa while sitting on a bench inside the bed of the truck.

Guests will also be directed to wear a mask through the entire experience, including the photo.

The mall says enhanced sanitization protocols will also be in place between each visit.

Read more: No in-person Santa visits at Chinook Centre, Market Mall due to COVID-19

Marketing manager Alexandra Velosa called it a “fresh take” on visiting Santa.

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“While we recognize that holiday shopping will be different this year, we remain committed to providing shoppers with an exceptional guest experience that takes them beyond the commercialism of the season,” Velosa said.

Guests are encouraged to book their visit in advance using the online booking system, which will accommodate 10 photo sessions per hour from Nov. 13 until Christmas Eve.

Southcentre’s sensory-friendly sessions with Santa are also returning beginning Nov. 14. The program is intended for children who have sensory sensitivities and mobility issues.

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Even pet owners will be able to bring their furry friends for photos with Santa on designated dates.

Southcentre said a detailed “know before you go” resource will be available online with “extensive details about how to plan ahead for a visit with Santa” and “what to expect from the queuing process and photo experience.”

Chinook Centre and Market Mall, meanwhile, will not be offering in-person Santa visits as they had in previous years.

On Nov. 13, mall operator Cadillac Fairview announced both locations – as well as 17 others across the country – would suspend the cherished tradition in the wake of COVID-19.

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Instead, the shopping centres will offer virtual video chats with Santa and virtual storytime.