Even Santa gets COVID-fatigue
He may have a team of flying reindeer and the ability to deliver presents to every household around the world in a single night, but even Santa Claus’ style has been cramped by the COVID-19 pandemic. Surprisingly, this is not because of travel restrictions, but instead due to the way the virus impacts Santa’s interactions with children during his annual appearances at stores. Although Santa is known for his jolly demeanor, at least one Santa is not entirely in the holiday spirit this year.
Nome’s own professional Santa Claus —his name is Paul Kudla, but most Nomeites know him as Santa Paul—is working at the Anchorage Cabela’s store this year. “I’m not a happy Santa,” Kudla said of the set up this year.
It is somewhat of a Christmas miracle that Santa gigs are even happening this year. Stores around the country have cancelled the event and Kudla said that Bass Pro Shop was on the fence about it. Kudla is expected to wear a plastic face shield and sit behind a glass wall. Unfortunately for Kudla, the physical barrier greatly hinders interactions with children. “You can barely talk to them,” he said. “Santa smiles from behind a shield and glass.”
“It’s heartbreaking,” Kudla said of the situation, and of the children who don’t understand why they can’t approach Santa.
According to Kudla, Santas across the country and world are similarly unhappy, and he knows some who decided to sit this season out. Kudla said that he considered not working as a Santa this year, and he recently came close to quitting. “I almost walked away last week,” he said. “I felt as if I was losing my Santa magic.”
Interactions with children, Kudla’s favorite part of the endeavor, are what keep him returning, even after 13 seasons. So, even though the way that he can interact with kids is limited, he does not want them to go without Santa. “The only reason I’m doing it this year is for the kids,” Kudla said.
While the season got off to a rough start, Kudla said last Friday that he thinks things may be looking up. “Last night, something came back when I started interacting with kids again,” he explained, “I felt a spark of Santa magic.”
Another silver lining is that the pandemic will not stop the Army National Guard’s Operation Santa Claus program. Operation Santa Claus, which delivers gifts to children in rural areas, will still happen this year. Santa and Mrs. Claus will not be making an appearance as they typically do. However, a new CH-47 Chinook helicopter will deliver presents to three communities, Birch Creek, Stevens Village and Nanwalek, in early December.