The Mom Stop column: Sorry, Santa Claus, we’ll see you next year

Lydia Seabol Avant More Content Now.
Cheboygan Daily Tribune

Columns share an author’s personal perspective.

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There are certain time-honored Christmas traditions so many of us hold dear - the decorating of the Christmas tree or hanging lights outside the home, making the same kinds of Christmas cookies that our grandmothers did or going to church on Christmas Eve.

Among those traditions, for most children, is the annual visit to see Santa.

My mother-in-law still has a photo of my husband around 1-years-old, a blonde boy at the time wearing red corduroy overalls and a white shirt. His face was as red as his clothing as he screamed his head off in Santa’s lap. I recognized the expression quickly, when my son was a toddler and also screamed at the sight of Santa.

We’ve taken pictures, for posterity’s sake, although we’ve never made our kids sit on Santa’s lap if they didn’t want to. One year, two of my three children refused to get anywhere near Santa, and so we had a photo of my oldest child, standing alone with Santa and looking a little confused as to why her younger brother and sister were clinging to Mommy as if she were a life raft.

Although my kids are older now, visiting Santa is something we always do, often with my kids’ cousins. Except for this year.

Like so many things COVID-19 has changed, it’s also altering many of our traditions because of the need to stay safe. We are practicing social distancing, which means that we aren’t going into stores. And when we do go out, we wear masks and try to avoid close contact. And that means, unfortunately, that there’s no picture with Santa for us this year.

I’ve seen some creative solutions. One friend sent Santa a photo of her children, and in return received a picture of Santa holding a framed photo of the kids. I’ve heard of some companies taking photos of children in a Christmas backdrop, and then “photoshopping” a picture of Santa so he looks like he’s there in person, even if he’s not. My sister found a photographer who creatively styled a photo shoot that focuses on the kids and family’s reaction to Santa, although Santa is far from the family and only his backside can be seen - in reality, he’s masked and more than 6 feet away. And many of the mall Santa shoots include children posing on a bench in front of Santa, who is cleverly protected behind a plexiglass wall.

Desperate times call for creative solutions.

Still, I’ve been surprised this year at how many of my friends have posted pictures of their kids, unmasked, sitting with an unmasked Santa. Some even have photos of the entire family with Santa, all unmasked. I can’t help but wonder how many old men will end up with COVID-19 and possibly die all because kids needed their photo taken with Santa, even during the height of a pandemic.

In Ludowici, Georgia, it’s estimated that about 50 children were exposed to COVID-19 because Santa and Mrs. Claus unknowingly had the virus when they sat for photos during part of an annual Christmas parade celebration on Dec. 10. Now those children’s families are being told to quarantine through the end of the year. It’s not known yet if the photoshoot was a super-spreader event.

I question, is it really worth the risk? How many fewer Santas will be around next year because people had to have their photos taken and didn’t wear a mask?

I’m not trying to be a Grinch or a Scrooge. But this year, please, be safe during the holidays. And sometimes, that means changing our time-honored Christmas traditions because we know it’s the right thing to do, whether we like it or not.

Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at lydia.seabolavant@tuscaloosanews.com.