This year, Santa Claus is indeed coming to town.
After a 2020 Christmas season disrupted by COVID-19 event cancellations, restrictions and modifications, traditions are on the comeback trail, dotting the calendar from late November through December.
But given persisting coronavirus conditions and public health concern, how will the bearded one from the North Pole interact with children?
Will there be kids sitting on Santa’s lap and up-close chats?
Or will social distancing and masks be required?
For most municipalities in central and southern Delaware, there will be a welcome return to normalcy, with a side of common sense.
No mask or social-distancing requirements are planned at Santa-related events in Frankford, Dagsboro, Dover, Millsboro, Rehoboth Beach and Georgetown. Traditional face-to-face Christmas conversations with St. Nick will be welcome.
“It’s going to be business as usual,” said Robbie Murray, spokesman for Envision Frankford, which had Santa on hand for a Saturday tree-lighting at Frankford Town Park. He will return for weekly Santa House visits Wednesday and Dec. 8, 15 and 22.
In Dagsboro, Kriss Kringle will return for Santa in the Park, staged at Katie Helm Park on three Mondays and Wednesdays, Dec. 6-22.
“No restrictions. And there will be none,” said Dagsboro Town Administrator Cindi Brought. “Everybody can do whatever they are comfortable with. But our Santa is not wearing a mask unless they are uncomfortable. And as far as I know, they are not.”
Dagsboro Mayor Brian Baull explained.
“Obviously, if our Santas tell us, for their own personal safety, they want to do something different, then I guess we would try to accommodate. As of right (now), it’s going to be like it normally is,” he said. “Obviously, we’d prefer people who might be sick or kids that might not feel well (to not attend). … The usual stuff: If you don’t feel well, don’t come out there. If you are comfortable wearing a mask, you can wear a mask. And I’m sure, if you ask Santa to wear one, I’m sure that could be accommodated, as well, too.
“It’s like we’ve got to start trying to get back to some semblance of normal. We just ask people to use common sense.”
For its annual Christmas tree-lighting and holiday celebration Friday, Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen said the city will take a similar approach to preventing the spread of COVID-19. He said there will be no regulations in place requiring attendees to wear masks or social distance.
“We’re relying on everybody to do what they feel comfortable with,” he said. “We’re going to try and move forward in a normal fashion.”
That same protocol will be in place at the Dashing Through Downtown Dover Parade. Santa will make an appearance at the parade, which begins at 6 p.m. Dec. 12 on Loockerman Street.
“It’s up to each of us as individuals to be responsible,” Mayor Christiansen said. “All of us are adults, and people will look out for their kids. We’re going to have our holiday celebrations and try to make them as normal as possible.”
In Georgetown, Mayor Bill West said children are welcome to join St. Nick in the Santa House, traditionally located on The Circle. Any precaution is at the discretion of their parents or guardians.
“They are planning on letting the kids come in and sit on Santa’s lap,” said Mayor West.
But there’s a different twist in Milford.
Downtown Milford Inc. will be implementing COVID-19 precautions this year for the Santa House it owns and operates. Santa will be at his house on Walnut Street but will stand in the doorway, separated from children by Plexiglas.
“Kids can kind of walk up and stand next to the Plexiglas and get their photo. They won’t be able to go in the house. DMI has made that precaution,” said Sara Pletcher, Milford’s economic development and community engagement administrator.
Additionally, Santa will be at the house on Saturdays only from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., which is less availability than in pre-pandemic holiday seasons.
“Typically, he is there Friday, Saturday and Sunday through the holiday season,” said Ms. Pletcher, noting that these precautions were imposed by DMI, not by the city. “The city has not implemented, nor will we implement, any kind of communitywide social-distancing or masking mandate or anything like that.”
A featured guest in Millsboro’s Christmas Parade on Saturday, Santa will be visiting his house at the Millsboro Town Center at dates to be announced. There are no restrictions etched in stone, officials said, and precautions will be at the discretion of parents and their children.
In Rehoboth Beach, the city’s Santa House arrived on the boardwalk Nov. 17 in preparation for the annual tree-lighting ceremony, which was held Friday, and subsequent visitors.
Masks are not required, but optional. “It is not required. If they are uncomfortable and they feel that they want to wear a mask, that’s fine,” said Carol Everhart, president of the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce.
She added that a portion of the city’s last Santa House event, on Dec. 19, will be reserved for canines.
“The last hour on the last day, people bring their dogs. They like that. You bring your dog and get your picture with the dog and Santa. I don’t think the dogs will be wearing masks.”
Kiwanis International of Seaford also annually sponsors a Santa House, which will be based on High Street this year, in the vacant lot where Burton Brothers Hardware was located.
Seaford Kiwanis president Carl VanTine said any precautionary discretion is up to the foursome of Santas booked for the house, which opens Dec. 5.
“We’re not mandating any restrictions,” said Mr. VanTine. “I’m leaving it up (to) them. They have differing degrees of comfort.”
One of the major holiday attractions Downstate is Schellville, a winter celebration featuring a village of miniature houses created several years ago by Schell Brothers. Schellville is behind Tanger Outlets Seaside in Rehoboth Beach.
For its 2021 season, which continues through Dec. 31, Schellville invites attendees to “sit with Santa and Ms. Claus — for free.”
According to its website, “COVID safety measures will be in place for this event. Unvaccinated guests must wear a mask and stay at a safe distance from other guests.”
Despite these myriad opportunities to visit Santa in our area, nationwide, there appears to be a Santa scarcity. According to hiresanta.com, a national database for Santa bookings, demand this year is up 120%, but there are about 15% fewer Santas for the season. COVID-19 appears to be the primary reason.
For the most part, Downstate Delaware appears to be immune to that shortage.
“The North Pole came through like a champ,” said Ms. Everhart. “Our Santa, he has come through.”
Ms. Brought agreed, saying, “We’re golden. I had no problems. Santa is covered all the way around.”