Over the age of 65, a little rounder around the belly and constantly surrounded by kids.
Those characteristics might ring a bell of qualities that put one at most risk for COVID-19. Or, they might remind you of the characteristics of Jolly Old Saint Nick. The men who bring the spirit of Christmas, and are Santa to children all around the world, are the ones most at risk, but also hold one of the most important jobs of the season.
One Oklahoma Santa in particular, who goes by Santa Opa Claus in the Christmas community, is one of the many Santas who are at a higher risk this holiday season. He recently had an artificial heart valve put in which potentially puts him at risk for contracting COVID-19. The juggle of keeping himself and the community around him safe, while still keeping the magic of Christmas alive, has made this holiday season unique from any others for him.
Santa Opa Claus says while he is just as busy this season, there are things that are different. Opa and the photographer that he works with came up with a system where the families can choose from levels of green, yellow, or red, depending on how comfortable they are with their interaction with Santa. The levels range from everyone wearing masks without sitting on his lap, all the way to complete normalcy without even wearing masks. What might come to a surprise for some is that Opa says that most families opt for the maskless level.
Opa has also done virtual visits as well, but describes them as not as successful as in-person visits.
“I did one the other day with a daycare,” Opa describes. “I ended up with 15 children trying to talk to me. It was a bit confusing.”
There have been many things that the world has adapted to during the pandemic that will stick around post-pandemic, but Opa is not sure if that is the case with virtual Santa visits.
“You never know [if the virtual Santa visits will stick around after the pandemic ceases.] I have come to find that this industry changes like the weather.”
Describing the job as a “calling,” Sooner Santa is another Oklahoman who spends his career portraying Santa and bringing cheer to all.
Sooner Santa says that his season has looked different from others due to the ongoing pandemic. Even with the virus still spreading rapidly around the state and country, families will request for Santa to not act as if that is the case. He says that few families request masks or face shields in his visits.
“The children and their parents are starving for some normalcy,” says Sooner Santa. “Most people want the ‘normal’ Santa experience. . . sitting on Santa’s lap, telling Santa their wish for Christmas and I’ve been happy to provide that.”
Sooner Santa says he still takes precautions such as taking extra vitamin C and changing his gloves often, but classifies himself as younger on the scale of typical Santas and does not have any major health concerns, making him feel comfortable giving these children the “normal” Santa experience.
Sooner Santa is the vice president of the International Brotherhood of Real Beard Santas.
Most Santas are connected with others in this profession. The International Brotherhood of Real Beard Santas, IBRBS, is an organization that many take part in. They meet four times a year, host workshops (also known as Santa School), and distinguish their brand by doing background checks and having high standards of being a reliable Santa.
Because of the IBRBS, they get to lean on each other in times of the Santa season being flipped upside down due to the pandemic. OKC Santa, another Oklahoma based Santa is a member.
“Many Santas reduced their appearances because they are at high risk due to being over 65, overweight, and other risk factors,” says OKC Santa. “Mrs. Claus was not thrilled that I did so much work without masks, but she completely understands why I do it.”
OKC Santa says that he did do more Zoom work this year, as well as pre-recorded messages.
The Santas that are found at the malls, holiday parties, and photoshoots alike might be taking precautions this season, but thankfully Dr. Fauci, the physician that has been leading the US through the pandemic, wants children to know that he already gave the “real Santa” the vaccine, so they have nothing to worry about.