Holiday cheer merges with social distancing during safe Santa Claus visits in Longmont

Six-year-old Savannah Jarret has been writing letters to Santa Claus, but on Saturday, the Longmont girl finally got to see him in person.

Wearing a dress, a bow in her hair and a face mask with cats on it, Savannah peered through two squares of Plexiglas hanging from the beams of an outdoor tent. She told Santa Claus (assisted by Don Gerardo) matter-of-factly that she would like a “teddy bear and a My Life Doll” for Christmas.

Savannah was one of about 20 children who reserved a time to chat with Santa Claus during safe-distanced visits this weekend at Longmont’s Village at the Peaks mall.

After the visit, she said she had been “excited” to see Santa Claus. Savannah’s mom, Megan Richardson, said it was a good experience.

“I’m glad we were able to do this,” she said. “It’s important for younger kids to have this opportunity while they still can.”

Village at the Peaks Vice President of Operations and Marketing Danaria McCoy said mall officials wanted to give children the chance to see Santa Claus this holiday season in a safe-distanced way. Families can visit Santa Claus on weekends at the mall through Dec. 20, if they make a reservation.

“I’m hoping the kids get a sense of not only normalcy but also perhaps a really special memory,” McCoy said. “During COVID that might be the Santa visit they actually remember and think back fondly on 20 years from now. It’s going to tell children that their parents, the community and Santa won’t get stopped by COVID. They will just do it in a safe way.”

McCoy said the mall followed published state and county guidelines for outdoor events. Everyone over the age of 2 was asked to wear a mask during their 15-minute visits with Santa. In the heated tent, a box of masks was available for anyone who might show up without one and disinfectant wipes sat in close proximity to candy canes spread out over a tabletop.

Families who entered the tent followed a red carpet up to Santa Claus, who sat in a chair adorned with sparkling candy canes. His seat was complemented by large glittering presents and a Christmas tree with blinking colored lights nearby. Christmas music played softly in the background and strings of white lights hung from the ceiling.

From behind Plexiglas Santa bellowed “Ho, ho, ho!” and waved at the children, who stopped in front of him at a sign on the floor that read, “Six Feet Is the Sweet Spot.” Renetta Banning, the property and marketing manager for Village at the Peaks, noted the distance between the jolly old elf and the kids was actually 8 feet, just to be safe.

Santa, with a snow-white beard and kindly brown eyes behind glasses that occasionally fogged as he breathed through his mask, asked children if they had been good this year as the requests for presents rolled in.

Gavin Dowd, 6, said he wanted a “Lego ghost lab,” and his sister, 10-year-old Parker Dowd, asked for a cellphone. Gavin and Parker’s mom, Tiffany Dowd, asked Santa for “some COVID relief.”

The Firestone family said they heard about the event from a family friend and wanted their children to get the chance to see Santa.

“It was kind of weird,” Parker Dowd said, adding that it was hard to hear through the Plexiglas and masks.

But the children’s parents said they liked that it was “a nice socially distanced option.”

Seven-year-old Lily Porter described her visit with Santa Claus on Saturday as “cool.” Her dad, Ronnie Porter, of Firestone, said the kids appreciated getting to see Old St. Nick.

“I felt like it was really safe the way (the mall) went about it,” Porter said.

Acting as Santa’s helper was Scott Shaffer, dressed head to toe in red and green as Scotty the Elf. Costume bells jingling with every step, Shaffer, of Arvada, occasionally helped to repeat children’s requests to Santa Claus when he couldn’t hear them through their masks. With a large candy cane, he pointed families out of the tent when their visit was through.

Shaffer said he liked combining holiday magic with science-backed protocols to protect people.

“We’re going to be healthy and also cheerful,” Shaffer said. “I think that Santa is a great reminder to children. They can see this is what’s safe for Santa, so this is also what’s safe for our grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles. Grandma might be 70, but Santa’s like 800.”

Banning said the event sold out Saturday. About 20 families were signed up to see Santa between 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., with a break for Santa to “feed his reindeer.”

Gerardo, of Colorado Springs, has visited malls and cities across the state and country as Santa Claus for 18 years. This year marks his fourth season at the Village at the Peaks.

“It’s challenging from the standpoint that children are all wearing masks and Santa’s wearing a mask,” Gerardo said. “It kind of takes away from it since they can’t sit on my lap.”

Gerardo, though, said he was grateful for the chance to continue the tradition of “spreading joy and happiness,” even if it meant doing so from behind Plexiglas.

“That’s what I’m all about,” he said.


Reserve a time to see Santa Claus

Santa Claus will continue to visit the Village at the Peaks on Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 20. To reserve a spot, people can visit Tickets cost $5.