SINGAPORE: The pressure on jobs brought about by the effects of COVID-19 has had an unexpected casualty: Santa Claus.
Demand for appearances by him has been crippled, amid weak business sentiment and continued efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19.
“We haven’t had any bookings at all from the malls or corporate companies … In the past, we could get over 15 bookings just from one client alone,” said Christina Krishnan, the founder of Budget Events & Entertainment Services, which offers Santa Claus appearances.
“There’s not been any response from clients, because I guess companies are not doing well and not willing to spend,” Ms Krishnan told CNA.
She added that she has only had two bookings this season, which were for small family events.
That means most of her pool of about 15 Santas are just “ready and waiting”.
READ: COVID-19 keeping most US Santas at a distance
It is a similar tale for entertainment company Event Magic, which has seen an 80 per cent drop in bookings due to COVID-19, according to its founder Jonathan Heron.
“We are currently using five Santas, while normally we would have 10 in our stable,” he said, noting that this is a side gig for most of these staff who have day jobs.
Demand has declined across the board for other festive acts such as toy soldiers, carol singers and children’s choirs, the 49-year-old said.
Peer Metze, who runs the Santa Claus Academy Facebook page, added that though the busy season usually starts in mid-November, there’s been “nothing much at all” this year.
The 58-year-old retiree from Germany has only made two appearances so far.
“The COVID-19 situation is changing every day so quickly, so I can also understand why malls don’t want to spend money setting up events which may be taking a risk.”
“It’s quite sad … it will not be very lively this year,” said Mr Metze, who has been playing Santa for well over a decade.
MEET AND GREETS WILL LOOK DIFFERENT
Out of the few bookings Mr Heron and Mr Metze have received, some have been for online appearances – a first for them.
For instance, Mr Heron’s firm is working with seasonal attraction Christmas Wonderland, which has organised a virtual meet and greet.
Merrymakers will be able to schedule a private three-minute video chat with Father Christmas.
READ: Gardens by the Bay’s Christmas Wonderland returns with new parade, Santa’s workshop
Meanwhile, one of the few establishments that has opted to go ahead with having Santa appear is Gardens by the Bay.
“The Santa meet and greet has always been one of Gardens by the Bay’s year-end highlights which visitors look forward to,” said Ms Chua Yen Ling, Senior Director of Programming and Events for the park.
“As 2020 has been a challenging year for everyone, we felt that it is important to bring back some of our well-loved Christmas programmes to spread some positivity and cheer during this festive period,” she told CNA.
However, strict guidelines will be in place to ensure safety. Besides his iconic red hat and suit with white fur trimmings, Santa will have to don a new accessory – a mask – at all times, as will his visitors.
This is already standard protocol for the firms. “The mask goes underneath the beard, so it won’t look that different. The beard usually covers most of the mouth anyway!” Mr Heron said.
READ: Santas in Hungary ditch the chimney and go online to meet children instead
Ms Chua added that the meet and greet will be at a fixed location “to prevent roving and ad hoc interactions between Santa and the visitors”.
Visitors will have to stand a safe distance away based on floor markings, while safe distancing ambassadors will also be deployed.
The meet and greets will be spread out throughout the afternoon, with each session capped at 30 minutes to facilitate crowd management.
The entertainment companies said similar safe distancing measures will have to be adhered to even in a private home setting.
“Normally kids come up and hug Santa and shake his hands, so that can’t be allowed at all … But he’ll have to make up for it with a warmth of spirit rather than physical touch,” said Mr Heron.
Mr Metze added that it is important to set boundaries with kids who may be eager for a cuddle.
“If you invite children with open arms, they will run to you. So body language is something you also have to use to prevent that from the beginning, while still being the warm guy,” he said.
While this festive season is not looking too jolly for these entertainers, their Christmas wish is that the situation will improve.
“2020 has been the worst year we’ve had for bookings overall... I hope and believe that things will get better, especially if everyone plays their part,” added Ms Krishnan.