It’s a family tradition for the Hakerem family to leave cookies out on the dining room or kitchen table for Santa Claus when he delivers presents on Christmas Eve.
As with nearly every aspect of life this year, however, the pandemic is changing people’s holiday traditions. This year the Hakerems plan to leave cookies somewhere else in their Atlanta home.
And that’s on their roof! “That way he doesn’t have to come in the house,” said their son, Josh, age 7.
While it’s clear that Santa has certain magical powers and some countries are granting his crew travel exemptions for Christmas Eve, the science around coronavirus is still emerging. It’s best to not take risks with spreading the virus, some children say, especially when toys are on the line.
“He’s probably going to drop toys down the chimney,” Josh said. “Then Mom and Dad will pick them up and arrange them under the tree.”
Santa is a superspreader of joy, but is there a risk that Santa’s trip delivering toys to children around the world might make him a superspreader of coronavirus as well? One theory was that he’d need to stick to the same habit public health officials recommend for all of us when we enter a building.
It’s likely that the same precautions Santa would take on Christmas Eve are part of a culture of safety he’s instilled in his workforce of elves and reindeer throughout his sprawling North Pole operation.
“He would wear a mask,” Josh said. And his crew? “I think they are all wearing gloves and masks.”
Christmas magic in the Covid era
Even though they’re likely taking safety precautions, the virus has likely disrupted the supply chain. With difficulty getting the supplies his merry crew needs to build toys, and with social distancing requirements in their magical factory, Santa has asked boys and girls, even the good ones, to be patient with him this year, according to an email obtained by Victoria Moorhouse, a mother from Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Moorhouse told her sons that Santa Claus had emailed her and other parents to relay apologies for how the Covid-19 pandemic has led to delays – specifically in the manufacturing and handling process for many of the millions of toys their massive operation distributes each year.
Her son Aiden, age 11, understood, acknowledging that delays this year were perfectly understandable.
“Some of the elves have Covid,” he said.
Therefore Santa will forego his usual personal sleigh-driven delivery trip this year and opt for an innovative bit of magic to reach millions of kids on a single night, Aiden explained.
“He’ll do it with a little Christmas magic,” Aiden said. “Teleportation.”
Covid-19 may permanently alter many aspects of our world, but standard Christmas magic will likely make a comeback in a post-pandemic world. “When Covid is over, he’ll keep using the reindeer,” Aiden said.
Others, however, were less convinced that a major tactical change would be necessary. If Santa stayed out of the parents’ or kids’ bedrooms, there was less risk of infection.
“I don’t think he’d have to wear a mask because we sleep far away from each other,” said Coraline Land, a kindergarten student from Missoula, Montana. “I also don’t think he would have to wear a mask because he’s magical.”
She was more concerned with Santa’s apparently poor performance last year. With magic at your disposal, can there be any excuse for a slipup? “Last time I asked for a toy dog, and he accidentally didn’t give me a toy dog,” she said. “Hopefully he actually brings me something I want this year.”
Leave Santa a note if you’re sick
Unfortunately, some children say that asking Santa to stay away from sleeping quarters isn’t guaranteed to work as a virus containment measure.
Some families, like the Swansons in Atlanta, keep their stockings in their bedrooms. While that means waking up on Christmas morning to instant presents, the practice carries a risk during a pandemic.
Are they worried that Santa might catch the virus? “Yes!” sisters Willow, age 6, and Scout, age 7, responded in unison.
But there were ways that he could still deliver presents without getting sick, the sisters said.
“I think he can, if he wears gloves. Before Christmas, for people who have (the virus), they’ll wear masks and write a letter to Santa telling him that they have it so he has to be careful,” Scout said.
She provided a sample letter that boys and girls can leave for Santa if they have Covid-19.
“Deer Santa I have the corona viris so be carfle and war mask and gloves be safe. Love Scout.”
Tipping him off is key so he knows to stay socially distanced while filling up their stockings. That’s a message that Willow and Scout hope other kids around the world will heed during the pandemic.
No need for Santa to quarantine
Meanwhile, health officials in a growing list of countries have been clearing the way for Santa to make his global rounds this year.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command, known more commonly as NORAD, plans to track Santa’s journey around the world on December 24.
This year marks NORAD’s 65th year charting St. Nick’s travels. In addition to providing live updates to children who call its 1-877-HI-NORAD hotline, the group also lets fans track Santa via its website or Android and Apple apps.
CNN attempted to reach out to the North Pole for comment but has yet to hear back. (The elusive figure appears to have a voicemail system set up for children, but no personnel to field media inquiries.)
Belgium’s health minister issued an exemption to Sinterklaas, as he is known in Flemish, in November, allowing him to pass into the country and skip the standard quarantine period required for visitors to the country.
Sinterklaas traditionally delivers presents to Belgian children on the eve of December 6, and no new cases were reportedly tied to his deliveries. That should give others solace for when Santa makes his wider rounds on December 24.
The top American infectious disease expert told USA Today last month that Claus also wouldn’t need to quarantine upon entry into the US on Christmas Eve.
“Santa is exempt from this because Santa, of all the good qualities, has a lot of good innate immunity,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergic and Infectious Diseases.
These regulatory carveouts for Mr. Claus from global officials come after similar figures had been given a special status earlier this year. New Zealand declared the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny to be essential workers early in the pandemic.
But in extending exemptions to Santa, Fauci faced criticism in some quarters for declaring him immune without citing scientific evidence.
Coraline Land, however, defended Fauci’s judgment, and confirmed that Santa does, in fact, have rare immune characteristics that act as a bulwark against SARS-CoV-2.
“He is magical so he doesn’t have to worry about getting sick,” the kindergartner said. “He would feel better right away.”
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And even if the impossible happened and Santa did contract Covid-19, Coraline had it on good authority that the North Pole has laid out contingency plans for the annual toy delivery.
“Mrs. Claus could go if Santa is sick and couldn’t go,” she explained.