The good news is that Santa, and all his helpers, are very much essential workers and will be bringing smiles to faces this Christmas as always.
However, seeing him free of charge will be a very different experience this year.
Along with the cancellation of various Christmas events that bring children flocking to see the big man in red (including Ōrewa’s Santa Parade), Delta has dealt a blow to Santa’s ability to wander around local town centres in the lead up to Christmas Day. This means a lot fewer opportunities for him to greet children beyond organised and paid for photo sessions. There will be no hugs, and his elves may be handing out the sweets, as Santa has to mask up and keep his distance.
Management at the Silverdale Centre had special masks already made for Santa so he could roam around the shopping centre while keeping people safe, when they had to rethink. Centre manager Leesa Fraser says earlier this month, the company they work with on Santa’s appearances expressed concerns about social distancing. The issue is currently still being sorted out, with a decision expected early next week.
Both Silverdale Mall and Coast Plaza in Whangaparāoa will have the usual paid photo sessions with Santa available, with Covid-19 measures in place according to Ministry of Health guidelines.
In Ōrewa, all the stops are being pulled out to bring Santa to local families. He will be wearing a full-face, clear visor, similar to the ones worn in medical centres, and will need to be seated 2m from children. Children will not need to wear masks if they are under 12 years old.
Destination Ōrewa manager Hellen Wilkins says no one knows yet exactly how Santa’s appearances will look and feel, but says she is determined to provide opportunities to see Santa without charge.
“The clear visor means he will still be recognisable to children and in photos,” she says. “Santa can already be scary to some children, so we didn’t want to add a mask.”
With details still to be finalised, the plan is for Santa to be seated in particular spots around Ōrewa town centre, with perimeter barriers around him. In some locations he may be seated on the sleigh that he rode in last year’s Ōrewa Santa Parade, and children will be able to stand on the ground by the sleigh for photos. Bags of lollies may be handed out by helpers wearing gloves.
“It will be different from what children are used to – our focus is to make it safe, but not clinical.”
Free digital photos with Santa taken by Photo Carnival are being supplied thanks to funding reallocated from the Santa Parade. There will also be two low sensory Santa photo shoots designed for children with special needs.
Hellen says definite dates are still to be sorted out, but her best guess is to get Santa into the town centre around mid-December.
Xmas sparkle awaits green light
Festive entertainment planned for the lead-up to Christmas in Ōrewa is in limbo due to lack of clarity from Government. A packed schedule of events was planned by business association Destination Ōrewa Beach to ensure there would be Christmas fun in the town centre after the Santa Parade had to be cancelled. However, even if Auckland moves to the red traffic light settings next week (an announcement is due on November 29), most of those events will be difficult to put in place. The red light sets a limit of 100 fully vaccinated people at events. Destination Ōrewa manager Hellen Wilkins says vaccination certificates can only be checked where there is a single entry point, which makes events in town centres problematic. “Accountability is another big question,” she says. “ If people are denied entry and challenge that, are we to enforce it?” Hellen is among those seeking clarity from Government on those questions – she has been told Government is developing detailed guidelines for event organisers. She says it is possible that the pre-Christmas events will become multiple small activities that will not gather an audience, such as music or buskers. “However, all the bands we wanted for carols haven’t been able to practice under Level 3, so that’s another issue,” she says.
No Santa on the snow
Santa’s usual residency at Snowplanet in Silverdale has also been a victim of Covid-19 restrictions around the capacity of the facility, and close contact. Snowplanet manager, Rojie Aguilar, says the facility can reopen when Auckland reaches the red traffic light phase. At that time, entry will be restricted to 100 socially distanced and fully vaccinated people per two-hour session. Rojie says this is around 33-40 percent of normal slope capacity, which is having a huge impact on the business. “Losing 60-67 percent of our capacity is a huge blow to our bottom line in December, when we are normally busy,” he says.