Like most of us these days, Santa is making a list of Zoom meetings and checking it twice.
Infectious-disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci has made it clear Santa is innately immune from COVID-19 and will still sneak down chimneys this year despite the virus that's changed so much about holidays in 2020. But thanks to newly installed speedy Wi-Fi at the North Pole and in his sleigh, Mr. Claus will also visit homes virtually as a safer alternative to the usual in-person meet-and-greets at malls, parties and parades.
Yes, coronavirus-era kids -- already old pros at Zooming with teachers, coaches, grandparents, cousins, friends and neighbors -- can add Santa to their list of Zoom buddies.
You could, of course, ask Uncle Bob or Cousin Johnny to dress up as the beloved bearded fella and Skype with the kids. But if you prefer a Santa who's been around the globe a few million times, many "official" Santas are offering personalized virtual visits that tap their experience as the Christmas icon.
Take Los Angeles actor Ed Taylor, who for years has played Santa at tree-lighting ceremonies and charity events, as well as in commercials for brands including Chrysler, Kohl's, Band-Aid and Overstock. He offers video chats lasting from 12 minutes to 55 minutes. The chats don't come cheap -- they range from $100 (about £74, AU$135) all the way up to the not-as-jolly $750 (£558, AU$1,010) for the longest available call on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. But they do include some Santa face time, and they can be recorded and replayed.
It's not just kids who are benefitting. With COVID-19 cases surging in the US, virtual visits are helping keep Santas employed during what's traditionally their busiest season. Don White and Mary Rogers, for example, are logging up to nine hours of video calls daily this year as Mr. and Mrs. Claus. A private chat through their website VisitFromtheClauses.com ranges from $49 (about £36, AU$66) for five minutes to $69 (£51, AU$93) for 10 minutes.
"We went from not thinking we'd be busy at all this year to being busier than ever," White told CNN. "We usually see the back of a kid's head when they're on our lap, but now we can look into their eyes and know their interests, pets and who they are. You can see their eyes light up."
UK-based Santa at Home is also connecting Santa with children for Zoom sessions through Dec. 24. The calls will last up to 12 minutes and can accommodate six kids and an unlimited number of grown-ups joining from anywhere. As with most virtual Santa visits, family members and friends can send details about the kids in advance for a more personalized experience.
"Thanks to Santa's mind-boggling memory, some elbow grease from the elves and some help from the big children, Santa will know the names (and plenty more... ) about absolutely every child he meets," says Santa at Home's organizer, entertainment company Underbelly, which produces live events and festivals.
Sessions start at £42 (about $56 or AU$76). That's equivalent to £7 per child (roughly $9 or AU$13).
Santa's Club offers five-minute packages personalized for up to three children that range from $50 (roughly £37, AU$ 67) to $70 (about £52 AU$94). The higher-end package includes a "mailed invitation From the North Pole with a magical letter and wristband."
Larger companies are going with digital Christmas experiences too. The Macy's Santaland at Home website, for example, takes visitors on an interactive journey at the North Pole that lets kids tour Santa's workshop and snap selfies with Santa. Sam's Club is offering free chat sessions with Santa for paying members.
Who knows? Zoom Santa may even stick around after the pandemic. That would be good news for families who'd rather skip the long lines, and the crying sessions on Mr. Claus' lap.