The holiday season is among us and with that has come lots of changes since the start of the pandemic, but one thing has stayed the same in Arlington— and that’s Santa.
Santa came last year to the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City but was only available for socially distanced visits. This year, Santa and his staff are required to be vaccinated and parents have the choice to allow their children to sit on Santa’s lap or take a socially distanced photograph.
Lotta Strott, parent of a seven-year-old and two-year-old boys in the Arlington area, said that it is a big deal this year to be able to go in person and see Santa.
“We’re really excited to be able to go see Santa in person this year,” she said. “Last year, my older son wrote a letter to Santa and we mailed it and we received a letter back.”
Strott wasn’t the only one glad to have Santa back in person this year.
Dutch Schrap, or America’s Favorite Santa as he’s more famously known, said he is also glad to be back in person , even though there have had to be some changes for safety reasons.
“Pre-pandemic, I was doing 150 or so home visits and all sorts of appearances and events, photography studios, parades…and there were huge crowds that I could bring in for most of those events,” Schrap said.
When COVID hit in 2020, Schrap said things began to change for his portrayal of Santa.
“We shifted with the times a little bit in my personal portrayal of Santa. I stopped doing home visits. I did some modified events outside and all my photoshoots outside. I basically required that my photographs take things outside. And we went virtual on a lot of visits, so we did zoom calls and I’m huge on Cameo,” he said.
Strott said she was less concerned about COVID because she assumed that Santa would be vaccinated; she was right.
Schrap said that he is taking many precautions this year just like he did last year to ensure the safety of himself and those around him, including being vaccinated.
“I took a lot of chances last year with sanitizing and washing hands and you know, keeping the distance. We did some photoshoots where we were a little bit apart…this year, I have been vaccinated twice and I did receive a booster, along with a flu shot and all the other good stuff,” he said.
Schrap’s father was a professional Santa as well. His father passed away from COVID prior to the vaccine being widely available and Schrap said that while he is cautious because he saw COVID effect someone he knew first hand, it was really important for him to fulfill his family’s legacy.
“He (Schrap’s father) obviously is not doing Santa this year and I kind of took things a bit farther in trying to fulfill his legacy as well,” he said.
According to Cherry Hill Programs, an organization that sends Santas to different locations throughout the nation, including the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, all Santas and other staff members must have been fully vaccinated by Oct. 14, 2021, except for those with medical and religious exemptions.
The website also states that the Santa Magic sets will follow CDC guidelines.
“Following CDC guidelines, Santa Magic sets are disinfected prior to opening and deep cleaned after closing. High-traffic and high-touch point areas are cleaned between Guest visits. Fabric treatment is provided to Santa suits after each shift,” according to the Cherry Hill Programs website.
Arlington County is also suggesting that residents follow the CDC and FDA protocols.
“Arlington County continues to follow the guidance of the CDC and VDH to ensure a safe and healthy including: getting vaccinated, wearing a mask in public indoor spaces, gathering outside or in well-ventilated areas, staying home and getting tested if you’re having any symptoms of COVID-19, and washing hands frequently,” Diane Martinez, Arlington Public Health Division said.
Strott said that with the precautions of vaccines and masks being put in place, she feels more comfortable allowing her children to go visit Santa.
“Between the vaccine and the mask, those two things have changed it from something we would not do—go to a crowded mall and sit on a stranger’s lap— but because of those two things happening, we feel a lot safer about that experience,” she said.
Schrap said he and other professional Santas around the country are trying to make things as normal as possible.
“We have groups of Santas online and we’re all cautiously trying to get back to the norm while maintaining strict sanitizing, changing of gloves, keeping our suits and beards together…keeping everyone safe,” he said. “We’re doing the best we can.”