Six-year-old Makenna Foti of Lindenhurst posed a question many children may be asking their parents this holiday season, when sitting on Santa’s lap may be thwarted by the coronavirus: "How am I supposed to tell him what I want for Christmas?"
Mom Michelle didn’t have an answer — at least not immediately. "This is way too much pressure," she joked during her search for an alternative to entering any crowded situation. But as with many challenges by 2020, this one has been tackled with a little bit of ingenuity.
Yes, Makenna, this Christmas there is still a Santa Claus. Businesses on Long Island are offering private sessions with the man in red, and, due to the ability to connect on platforms such as Zoom, local and national companies are offering virtual one-on-one visits to Santa at the North Pole.
‘SANTA AND ME’
Einstein’s Attic, the Northport toy store, has set up visits with Santa in a private room. Families get 20 minutes with Santa; the room is sanitized between each visit with a steam mist and Santa wears a mask, says owner Lori Badanes. It’s no problem fitting a mask over the bushy beard, says Einstein’s Santa, aka Scott Eichholz. The masks can come off briefly to snap a photograph, he says. "We don’t do any touching or lap sitting," he says, but the experience is still authentic. "It comes down to the joy."
Once Upon a Treetop in Plainview is also offering private Santa visits dubbed "Santa and Me" for one day only on Dec. 4, with professional photographs included in the fee.
As for virtual visits, "We are happy to announce they have Wi-Fi at the North Pole," declares the Ward Melville Heritage Organization, which is offering a free group Zoom meetup with Santa on Dec. 6, during which Santa will talk to kids and they can put their holiday present requests in the chat.
LIVE FROM HOME OF THE REINDEER
Nationally, the brand new SantatheExperience.com offers a 10 to 12-minute online experience that includes a tour of Santa’s mailroom, the reindeer stable and the toy factory as well as a five-minute interaction with Santa himself. "An elf greets them, and they take a sleigh ride with reindeers flying through the sky," says James Hyland, co-founder of Global Tour Creatives, which launched the experience. Children can put on their pajamas, have a hot chocolate and sit on their parents’ laps during the visit, he says.
Airbnb is offering a variety of virtual Santa experiences, including a Santa Zooming in from Lapland, Finland, land of reindeer and snow. "I will ask of course if you’ve been good," says that Santa, Pentti Ojala. Santa says the virtual visits are even good for him. "It’s good to meet people and see the happy faces during this difficult time." His meetups are half an hour long; other Airbnb meetups include visiting Mrs. Claus or a Santa who knows sign language.
And Sam’s Club has free virtual five-minute-long visits with Santa for club members. Customers choose between a white Santa, a Black Santa and a Spanish-speaking Santa, and they’ll receive a screengrab of the chat, says spokeswoman Amy Wyatt-Moore. "We knew going into the holiday season that opportunities to connect with Santa were going to be limited," Wyatt-Moore says.
The one-on-ones are something special, says Lauren Steinmann, 37, an engineer from Northport, whose children, Tristan, 5, and Ariya, 1, attended a private session with Santa at Einstein’s Attic. She and her husband and both grandmothers also came.
"From a COVID standpoint, we felt very safe," Steinmann says. And the kids had a very interactive visit with Santa. "He read them a book, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.’ He sang ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,’ and my son sang along. It was one of the best experiences with a live Santa I’ve ever seen."
Einstein’s Attic: 79 Main St., Northport, 631-261-7564. Families must purchase a $250 gift certificate for store merchandise that never expires. Check einsteins-attic-northport.myshopify.com for open time slots.
Once Upon a Treetop: 151 Dupont St., Plainview, 516-349-1140. $200 for 20-minute sessions and $350 for 40 minutes, with professional photographs included in the fee. Dec. 4 only, call for availability. If that date fills up, the venue may add additional dates or times.
Ward Melville Heritage Organization offers sign ups at wardmelvilleheritage.org.eventbrite.com for one of three 45-minute sessions with Santa at 2, 3 or 4 p.m. on Dec. 6. For more information, call 631-751-2244.
Santatheexperience.com appointments start at $34.95 and time slots are reserved online for Dec. 1 to 24, with a Zoom recording of the visit included.
Sam’s Club appointments with Santa are free with a membership starting at $45 for one year. Sign up at mysantasession.com/signup.html.
Airbnb’s virtual visit with Santa from Finland can be book at airbnb.com/experiences/2121115, with prices ranging from $19 to $25.
Feeling more like a Grinch this Christmas? Nicole Barany, owner of Bake Me A Cake Boutique in Lindenhurst, will dress like the Grinch and visit your home for an outdoor meet-and-greet for $30. Four days are currently scheduled, with the Grinch visiting a different geographic area of Long Island each day. Families can take photos with their own cameras, she says. Sign up for a time slot on the boutique’s Facebook Page or call 631-612-0339. Please note that the Grinch does not talk.