Meeting Santa Claus in a pandemic: How the holiday has changed for one young family
'It may not be the Christmas we envisioned, but it's still about family,' says Sarah Parsons
A child's first visit with Santa Claus can go one of two ways: either they enjoy meeting the bearded man in the bright red suit, or they are carried away in tears at the first hint of that booming baritone.
Add months of isolation and physical distancing due to COVID-19 to the traditional mix, and anything can happen.
Sarah Parsons and Richard Boland joked about their daughter's anticipated reaction before leaving their Corner Brook home for Santa's workshop at the Valley Mall. (Full disclosure: the author is Boland's aunt.)
"We had a bet," the first-time mom laughed. "We knew it could go either way."
Elizabeth was picture-perfect in red and white striped leggings, elf slippers, a red Christmas dress and matching headband. The 11-month-old gave Santa and his missus a once-over, and all bets were off.
"Her face lit up," Parsons said.
Elizabeth was all toddler smiles at the sight of Santa's long, white beard.
She reached with tiny hands toward the object of her beaming affection as kindly Mrs. Claus looked on. Elizabeth did not miss a beat when her fingers met the plexiglass barrier separating her from the couple dressed in red.
"That's one for the baby book," Parsons said. "It was definitely a moment in time."
Santa and Mrs. Claus followed Elizabeth's lead when she pressed her palms against the translucent barrier, touching without physical connection.
"It's a COVID Christmas," Parsons said. "It's different, it's safe and it's a little heartbreaking."
In 2020, the Newfoundland and Labrador government has asked residents to consider people, space, time and place, with events and gatherings planned according to COVID-19 guidelines.
If Santa visits a public space, in-person visits are recommended to be appointment only, with no lineups. People must maintain two metres between themselves and Santa.
That means at the Valley Mall, the merry couple are surrounded by Christmas trees, snowmen, and brightly wrapped presents — along with a plexiglass barrier.
Children can smile at Santa and Mrs. Claus; photos can be snapped. Sanitation occurs between appointments, and no one sits on Santa's knee.
The rules keep people safe, Parsons said.
"Visiting Santa is a tradition, and we looked forward to it. There were no people around and there wasn't a holiday feeling, but given the circumstances, we were glad to have the opportunity," she said.
"Christmas is not cancelled," she added. "It may not be the Christmas we envisioned, but it's still about family. It's still about love, and joy, and being together."
The Corner Brook businesswoman stayed at home with Elizabeth during the initial months of the pandemic. When Parsons started taking her daughter outside, interactions were limited to their family bubble.
It wasn't until early fall that Parsons felt safe venturing any further. Not surprisingly, Elizabeth was initially wary of strangers.
Parsons said it took time for her daughter to adjust.
"Kids need to get out," she said. "Isolation isn't good for their cognitive development."
The family will monitor public health guidelines from the Department of Health during the Christmas season.
"For the first time ever, there are family members we won't see, which is sad for all of us, but we have to keep everyone safe," Parsons said.
While the holiday will be different this year, Parsons and her family will be making the best of it.
"This Christmas is about creating new traditions, and making new memories," she said. "We have to learn how to live with COVID-19."