Nfld. & Labrador·Our New Normal

Look but don't touch: Here's how Santa's photos are being taken at the Avalon Mall

COVID won't keep Santa away from Newfoundland and Labrador's biggest mall this year, although the Avalon Mall will be doing things a bit differently. "It's nice to have some sort of normal for the children during Christmas," one mom said.

Children will not be allowed to sit on Santa's lap this year

Photographer Bruce Lee snaps a shot of Santa sitting six feet away from children at the Avalon Mall. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

There have been big changes in our little corners of the world, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions. CBC Newfoundland and Labrador is exploring those changes in a series called Our New Normal.


You can't see the big smile on six-year-old Audrey Snow's face due to the mask that her mom instructed her to wear, but her eyes are sparkling as she waits to be called onto the Santa Claus photo set at the Avalon Mall in St. John's.

Audrey notices that things are a little different this year from 2019. 

She was told beforehand that she won't be able to sit on Santa's lap. Also: no hugging Santa, and indeed no touching at all.

This doesn't appear to bother Audrey, who was able to recite her wish list to Father Christmas through two panes of an acrylic barrier. 

"As long as we see Santa, that is OK," she said with a giggle.

An annual tradition, in an unusual year

It wouldn't be Christmas without seeing Santa, said her mother, Maggie Snow, who has taken Audrey to get photos with the jolly old elf at the mall every year as one of their holiday traditions. 

"I was kind of apprehensive that maybe the mall wouldn't do it but it's nice to have some sort of normal for the children during Christmas, so this just meant the world to her," said Snow.

WATCH | See for yourself how Santa's snaps are being taken, in the video below: 

Meeting Santa at the mall under COVID-19

11 months ago
2:51
Kids can still get a picture with Santa at the Avalon Mall in St. John’s...but they have to sit a reindeer’s length away. Can this holiday tradition stay magical from behind plexiglass? 2:51

The Avalon Mall said having Santa Claus visit the mall at Christmas is always a special time so they started making preparations for a safe photography set months in advance. 

"We knew that there would be different measures that we would have to implement this year but we really wanted to do it this year if possible," said marketing co-ordinator Karla Fuglem.

It's all in the heart of the children and the attitude of the parents.- Bruce Lee

Everyone on set is able to stay six feet apart, two acrylic sheets sit between Santa and the kids and all the equipment gets sanitized in between use.

Instead of waiting in line, the photographers take down contact information and will text parents when they are ready. Masks must be worn until the child is seated upon wooden boxes not far from Santa.

According to Bruce Lee, who has photographed Santa at the mall for the past 20 years, just because kids can't get up close and personal with the man in red doesn't mean the experience cannot still be magical. 

Lee has been photographing Santa at the Avalon Mall for the last 20 years. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

"It's all in the heart of the children and the attitude of the parents. People are just really glad there is some place they can go to get that picture of Santa Claus that they have continuously got for years and years," said Lee. 

"It becomes a part of their tradition. They come, maybe go see a movie, do their shopping, get their children all dressed up so beautifully and they get that picture that goes on their mantle."

Keeping enthusiasm in check

Lee said one of the biggest challenges is making sure kids don't run to Santa when they see him, as they have done in previous years.

It's nice to have some sort of normal for the children during Christmas.- Maggie Snow

As well, he has had to adjust the camera angle to be able to fit both kids and Santa into a picture while sitting six feet apart.

"It's certainly different for all of us … but people are very understanding."

Although there have been some changes to the Santa Claus set, Santa himself looks as jolly as usual. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

Lee said some parents are asking their children to take pictures with their masks on as a way to remember this year's different holiday season. 

Although Lee said he was nervous about the possibility of cancelling this year's photos, he couldn't be happier the mall was able to host Santa again. 

"They love us, they come and they recognize us. We become a part of their tradition," he said. 

"I just love the spirit of the people."

Our New Normal 

(CBC)

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant great changes in our daily lives. We'll be exploring them in Our New Normal, a series of segments you'll see here, on Here & Now and on our current affairs shows. 


Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Meg Roberts is a video journalist with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, based in St. John's. Email her at meg.roberts@cbc.ca.

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