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Santa Finds New Ways To Visit Kids During Pandemic

Santa at Children's Museum
Santa hears the holiday wishes behind plexiglass at the Children's Museum of Richmond. (Photo courtesy Children's Museum)

Gone this Christmas season is the traditional sitting on Santa’s lap. Instead, children get to see the jolly man in red behind plexiglass or virtually.

“We've had to change it a lot from previous years,” says Sarah Moseley, director of development and marketing at the Children's Museum of Richmond. The museum is the current home of Richmond’s Legendary Santa, who’s been making his list and checking it twice since 1936.  

But despite the restrictions put in place because of the pandemic, Moseley says they wanted to keep the tradition of seeing Legendary Santa at the museum in place.

“It's a very important tradition for a lot of families--for generations. So we really wanted to make sure we could do everything possible to not cancel Christmas,” she says.

Moseley says they came up with safety precautions and a new system as a way to adapt.

“Like many other nonprofits, it's been a pretty tough year financially. So in order to keep things safe and also to be able to bring Legendary Santa back to the museum, we did time ticket sessions that folks could pay for.”

In person, those sessions cost $30 for a family up to six or up to six individuals, she says. Other viewing options included seeing Santa come down a chimney for $65 or logging into see him virtually, for $25.

Moseley says the timed ticket function cut down wait times to 30 minutes. And, while kids were waiting for their turn, there was plenty to look at. An “I Spy” experience greeted families as soon as they entered, she says, highlighting six different cultures and holidays in the lobby.

“Then once it's your turn, you'll visit with the Snow Queen, she'll ask you a few questions. And then Santa will call you up by name, which is really, really special,” she says. “Once he does that, we do have a bench in front of him. He's behind Plexiglas. The Snow Queen is also behind Plexiglas.”

Moseley says they limited the number of visitors to Santa Land to 24 people at a time. Once inside, children get ten minutes to visit Santa.

Sadly, tickets for all the ways to see Santa sold out quickly, says Moseley. Over 13,000 people will come through to see St. Nick and the Snow Queen this year.

Having children line up to see Santa online is how the Virginia Repertory Theater decided to adapt to the pandemic. Tickets for their virtual visits were $25.

And for the role of the North Pole’s prime resident, they looked no further than their own list of regular actors.

“I was completely shocked because I thought that I would never, never be Santa,” says actor William Anderson, who is also playing Kris Kringle on stage.

Anderson, who is a special education teacher in Richmond, says it’s the very first time anyone has asked him to be Santa. 

Instead of children shifting their feet nervously in a long line that snakes through a mall or a department store, kids are queued up in an online waiting room, talking to Santa’s helper, who sets up the Zoom call. 

“Gumdrop the Elf monitors who's coming in,” says Anderson. “She's taking pictures, she's taken the video of our call. She is the one doing all of that so that I don't have to worry about any of the technical aspects of the visit, I'm just focusing on the child.”

Anderson says at the beginning he thought he was going to be nervous. 

“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ I don't know how this is gonna go. This is gonna be rough. But I'm an actor,” he says. “It was smooth sailing, it went better than I had imagined.”

Santa greets every child with the song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” says Anderson, to help them feel comfortable. He says many children start off shy and timid. But he coaxes them out of their shells by asking them questions, such as what are the names of Santa’s reindeer.

One question that hasn’t come up yet from a child is about Anderson’s skin color. Anderson is Black. But he’s ready with answers.

“If a child said, ‘Hey, I thought Santa was white, why are you Black?’ I would answer them, [by saying] Santa isn't just any one person. You know, Santa is love. Santa is happiness,” says Anderson. “Santa, could be anyone walking down the street. He is just this embodiment of love and light and happiness. So Santa isn't just any one person, he can be whoever you want him to be.”

Another question Anderson anticipates is if he’s the real Santa--he’s ready with an answer for that, as well.

“One of my other really good friends is playing Santa as well. And we talked about some of those things,” says Anderson. “Something that he said to me was, ‘are you real?’ You know, asking the child, ‘are you real?’ And they of course, the child would say, ‘Well, yes, yes, I am.’ And he says, ‘well, there's your answer.’”

For the most part, he says children have been humble in sharing with him what they want for Christmas. And, there haven’t been any criers either. Anderson says, because of the joy the role has brought him, he’s open to doing it again next year--whether virtually or in person.

Editor’s Note: A VPM employee acts in the Children’s Museum of Richmond’s performance of Legendary Santa. 


Ian M. Stewart previously was the transportation reporter and fill-in anchor for VPM News.
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