With children gathered by a Christmas tree lighting in the Detroit subway suddenly rushing towards him, Santa Orrin VanLoon must have thought quickly. Dressed in his seasonal red suit, black boots and a fancy hat, he raised a white-gloved hand and shouted, “No, come home!“
“It was the hardest thing,” said VanLoon, a 77-year-old former minister and truck driver from Oak Park. He serves as Santa Claus at private parties and public events this year after being sidelined due to pandemic cancellations – and a bowel obstruction that was unrelated to the pandemic – season last. “It’s hard to say ‘Whoa. Hold it!'”
It’s counterintuitive, to be sure – kids are used to rushing Santa Claus and Santa Claus is used to welcoming them warmly.
But it is also the reality of the situation of Santa Claus in this second holiday season of the coronavirus pandemic. Over the past year, many Santa Claus – their relatively advanced ages and substantial builds fueling underlying medical conditions so appealing for the coronavirus – missed Christmas on the advice of doctors and on the exhortation of loved ones. In addition, many places have canceled the festivities. This year, with vaccines and boosters available, Santa Claus is back – with, in many cases, restrictions.
Whispering in Santa’s ear is no longer a guarantee for children. Neither does knee time – industry jargon for placing a child in Santa’s lap.
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At the Village of Rochester Hills Mall, children should stay 5-6 feet from the outdoor gazebo where Santa Claus sits. “The kids come up, they visit Santa Claus, they talk to him for a few minutes and off we go,” said Pamela Linder, the mall’s marketing director. “It’s an outdoor atmosphere, which seems to make our guests extremely comfortable,” she said. (There is no photographer on site; parents or other family members take photos on tours, which are free.)
In Owosso, Santa’s Seekers board a train, the North Pole Express, and travel about 30 miles northwest to the village of Ashley Country Christmas, a false North Pole in Ashley. When it’s time to meet Santa, the children sit on a bench some distance from the merry old elf. When it’s time for photos, they either stand or sit facing him.
“Be as careful as possible”
As for Santa Claus, Santa Orrin, who said he was fully vaccinated and received a booster, is doing his best to generally keep children a few feet in front of him as well.
“We want to be as careful as possible,” said Santa Orrin.
“We did a tree lighting ceremony, I won’t say which city it was, but for the most part they kept an open space so we could get to where the flat was. -form, ”he said. “As we were going, some of the people were pushing their kids towards us. That’s the biggest problem I’ve seen: Parents pushing their kids.
But for the most part, children and their parents respect Santa’s limits and his concern for everyone’s safety. At private home parties, guests are required to wear masks when Santa Orrin and his wife, Linda VanLoon, 75, who works as Ms. Claus, enter the house. With the Christmas couple settled in, families can remove their masks as long as they stay 6 feet away. Children are asked to put on their masks when approaching the duo and to stay a few meters from them as well.
“When we go out and see the little ones and the families and see their little traditions and different things, it warms our hearts. We wish we could hug them so much,” said Linda VanLoon. But this year there is no lap time. “A few families, they’ve been disappointed because they love these photos. At the same time, they understand, of course.”
70-year-old Santa Roger Weyersberg works in the village of Ashley Country Christmas and also works with a photo studio, hosts private events and online chats with Santa: “There’s just that excitement.” Families are “thankful for what they have lost for a while”.
Santa Tony Baltimore, a 44-year-old cleric from Lansing who usually makes one or two Santa appearances a year for area nonprofits, recently received a thank you note from a young boy. Santa Tony was virtual last year, so the boy “waited two years to give me a thank you note. It was very sweet.”
But Santa Tony’s only event this year was low-key, compared to the pre-pandemic years. About 15 children showed up instead of the usual 30 or 40. “I’m fully vaccinated and so I really think, I think the decision was on me to wear a mask. I chose to wear a mask and the kids and parents were definitely wearing it. I thought it was quite an event. safe for the most part. “But, he said,” with the number (of coronavirus infections) on the rise in Michigan, I think people aren’t just having the kind of parties they normally do. “.
Not so with Santa Roger, a former high school conductor and instructor at Saginaw Valley State University, who says he’s busy from morning till night. “It’s a combination of things,” he said. “I think there is a shortage of Santa Claus. I think there are a number of Santa Claus who are still afraid to come face to face. Frankly, some of us have passed away as well.”
As for precautions, Santa Roger – who had COVID-19 in November 2020 and feels lucky that he did not have to be hospitalized – said he was fully vaccinated and received a booster. He does not wear a mask during appearances unless a family or event planner asks him to. It allows lap time unless a site prohibits it. Sometimes event planners ask him to test before events, and he gladly does so.
“People (must) be patient and understanding,” said Santa Orrin. “Just to be reasonable about gatherings and things like that.”
“We have to be nice.”
Contact Georgea Kovanis: [email protected]