The Best Ways to See Santa Safely This Year, from Virtual Visits to Far-Apart Photo Ops

Even a pandemic can't stop Santa Claus from coming to town. Though COVID safety precautions make the traditional photo on Santa's lap an impossibility (which means Santa won't be at the N.Y.C. Macy's for the first time in nearly 160 years), plenty of elves are getting creative all over the country to ensure families can continue their holiday traditions safely.

Many places where Mr. Claus likes to visit, including malls and town squares, are planning to bring holiday magic with beautifully decorated trees and light displays – as well as socially distanced Santa setups, with mandatory mask-wearing and timed appointments to prevent crowds. (After all, Santas tend to be in higher-risk groups for COVID, and protecting the big guy is priority No. 1.)

And if you'd prefer to avoid in-person meet-ups due to spiking COVID numbers, your children can still chat with ol' Saint Nick from the comfort of your couch about every must-have toy on their wish list. Read on for the ways your kids can have the Santa experience this season.

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Reserve a Virtual Visit

Luckily, the North Pole has great WiFi, so Santa can get on a Zoom call. A few ways to get on his list:

  • Reserve a JingleRing, starting at $19.95 for a recorded message and $24.95 for a live call, which will provide a fun, customized experience for your family. Choose your preference for ethnicity, language (including ASL) and faith so up to five kids can have a special experience with Mr. and Mrs. Claus at home. The price includes a video recording and a photo from the call.

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  • Photo-printing company Chatbooks is offering free virtual Santa visits. You can book a time slot with St. Nick, which includes a 10-minute chat with the man himself. Plus, Chatbooks will take a photo from the visit and parents will have the option to print it as a Christmas card or add it to a Chatbook. Starting Nov. 19, you'll be able to reserve a spot with Santa for Nov. 27 or 28.

  • You know Cameo as the site to get your favorite Real Housewife to wish your friend a happy birthday, but you can book a North Pole celebrity too: Multiple Santas are using the platform to deliver customized messages to Christmas enthusiasts. Order up a shoutout starting at $25, and don't feel limited to the traditional Santa: Bad Santa and Stripping Santa are available too.

Additionally, some towns have teamed up with local Santas to offer virtual visits, so be sure to check your town's listings.

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Prepare for a COVID-Friendly Mall Visit

Malls and town squares around the country are finding ways to adapt their Santa meet-and-greets to include hand sanitizer stations and socially distanced, sanitized sleighs.

For example, at the Oakbrook Center mall in Chicago, kids will be asked to sit on a pile of presents six feet from Santa, so they can chat and have their photo taken at a safe social distance, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Santas are also adapting their safety measures to accommodate all children, including those with hearing difficulties. One Cincinnati Santa told Local 12 reporter Alexa Helwig that "even though I'm going to have to wear a mask, I've adapted it so that those who need to be able to see Santa’s mouth can still see it.”

“Hopefully by doing this, I can bring a little bit of familiarity and comfort to some families,” he added.

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Get Personalized Letters from the North Pole

One tradition that doesn't have to change (and can always be done safely): sending letters to Santa. The U.S. Postal Service has instructions on how to get a letter from St. Nick himself, postmarked from the North Pole. Follow each step and make sure you send your letters by Dec. 7 so that they can be received in time for Christmas.

You can also visit Letters to Santa Online to receive a free personalized photo from Kris Kringle. If you want to up the magic, Package from Santa has options that include a video call, personalized letter from Santa, a "nice list" guide and more starting at $14.95.

And Chatbooks and Lifetime have teamed up to provide an online "Mad Libs"-style experience that will deliver a free personalized postcard from Santa to your kid.

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