COVID-19 is impacting holiday plans and festivities this year—and that means your family might have to switch up the usual traditions, like visiting Santa Claus in person. Here's the best way to stay safe this holiday season.

By Melissa Mills
Updated November 13, 2020

COVID-19 cases are on the rise—with more than 100,000 cases being reported in the U.S. every day recently—so it comes as no surprise that the holiday season and surrounding festivities are going to look a lot different this year.

"As the virus is spiking in various areas, facilities are starting to get stricter again with how many people are allowed into any given setting,' says Snehal Doshi, M.D., board certified neonatologist and CEO of Millennium Neonatology. "Some parts of the country are even canceling or postponing events. It is going to be awfully hard to find a Santa in the mall taking pictures."  

Courtesy of Bass Pro Shops and Cabela's
Credit: Courtesy of Bass Pro Shops and Cabela's

That means your family's annual trip to the mall or a local store to visit with Santa Claus probably won't be happening as usual, and that's mostly due to the fact that it doesn't adhere to coronavirus guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for slowing the spread of COVID-19. The CDC recommends social distancing indoors and outdoors, wearing a mask—which can help protect you and others—frequent sanitization, and washing your hands. Sitting directly on Santa's lap in a packed mall? It just doesn't comply.

But that doesn't mean this beloved tradition is completely off the table for 2020. With a little creativity and flexibility, your family can still have a festive and magical holiday season.

Virtual Santa is Your Best Bet

Families have been taking their children to visit Santa Claus since the 1800s but, this year, retailers across the country are moving their Santa experiences online to help keep things safe. With no lines and no physical contact, experts say that virtual Santa is a great option amid the pandemic.

That's why, for the first time in almost 160 years, Santa Claus won't be at Macy's. Instead, the holiday leader is launching Macy’s Santaland at Home so kids can enjoy a free interactive meeting with Santa and a tour through his workshop from the comfort of their own homes.

But Macy's isn't your only virtual option. More customizable options like JingleRing and A Virtual Visit From the Clauses—which allow kids to chat live with the magic man in red for a price—are also helping to create zero-risk Santa experiences, while the Santa Pics app will let you get that coveted yearly photo right from home.

Are There Any Safe Santa Alternatives to Going Virtual?

I know, I know, chatting with Santa or Mrs. Claus through a screen just isn't the same. But there are some in-person options for your children if you're 100 percent against the whole virtual thing—though your coronavirus risk will increase.

Families have turned to Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s stores for years when it comes to getting that annual shot with Santa, and that's why the national retailer is keeping their free Santa Wonderland in person—with a few COVID-19 safety updates that you should absolutely look for if your family does opt for a non-virtual experience:

  • Reservations are required to limit crowds and allow time for sanitization
  • Everyone's temperature will be taken
  • Social distancing is enforced while families wait their turn
  • Children will have a contactless Santa experience from behind a clear protective barrier
  • Sanitization will occur frequently and between all Santa visits
  • Face coverings will be required

Your local mall might also offer some form of socially-distanced Santa experience, but you can expect Santa, his elves, and your entire family to be wearing masks in this year's photos. Be sure to look for the above protocols to take place, too.

And while there may be some in-person Santa options, experts still recommend a virtual Santa visit—or even having someone in your house dress up.

"It will be too hard to know what Santa's exposure has been," says Dr. Doshi. "Technically, the kids will all get temperature checks and be asked about symptoms. However, it would be a lot of kids that potentially go for pictures, so it is not worth the risk."

What About Other Holiday Festivities?

What to skip in 2020

  • Big, indoor holiday parties, where social distancing is difficult and your family's exposure risk goes up
  • Polar Express/North Pole train rides, which are typically crowded
  • Door-to-door Christmas caroling
  • Crowded community tree lightings, unless your family can really spread out from others

"I would avoid confined spaces like trains or other group activities," suggests Dr. Doshi. "You can often call these normally busy events and see if they are doing smaller shows. Maybe the train has appropriate spacing in place, and you could get lucky enough to have very few people in the train car with you. Try and limit your activities to the outdoors as much as possible."   

Safer options to consider

The best way to have the lowest-risk holiday experience is to stick with the people you live with or opt for activities outdoors to allow for more airflow and social distancing. Luckily, there are a few other safe options for celebrating.

  • Cut down a real tree and decorate it with your family
  • Decorate your home early—and go bigger than usual
  • Schedule a holiday lights drive-through (a great option since you'll be in your car with only your family)
  • Plan a Zoom party with extended family and friends
  • Test out new, festive recipes and crafts leading up to 2021
  • Break out some new Elf on the Shelf ideas to pump up the holiday magic for your kids

As for Dr. Doshi, this holiday season will be a lot more focused on time with the immediate family—just like most of 2020 has been. "We are limiting our travel due to the recent surges," he says. "Instead we will find activities in the area such as hiking and camping. We will go get our tree and dress it up like we normally would. Since we will be home more, we may decorate the house a bit grander than normal."

The Bottom Line

Whatever you decide, just remember: Anything in person and around other people—no matter what precautions are taken—will have some risk. Make wearing your mask, social distancing, and washing your hands frequently staples of this holiday season and beyond.

Please enjoy the holidays with your family as safely as possible!