Visiting Santa Claus at the local mall is a rite of passage. But not this year. Even jolly ol’ St. Nick isn’t immune to COVID-19, so now Santa is either walled off by plexiglass or appearing on Zoom.
Mike Uva, a professional Santa in the LA area, has been seeing kids via Zoom. He says he’s slammed with virtual visits. His day begins at 4:30 a.m. and ends at about 9 p.m.
“I see those little faces and the joy. And they're like Energizer batteries. … You take those cell phones and you lay them on the pads and they instantly charge — that's what it is when I get the smile of those little children. It's the best. Oh, I can't describe it,” he says.
Uva says that when he talks to kids, it’s all about them, the moment and Christmas — and he’ll skirt by COVID.
He describes what kids see when they visit him via Zoom:
“Behind me on my right-hand side, you would see the old potbelly stove. There's some glowing firewood in there. And on top, I have my old brass kettles and actual smoke comes out of it. … Old airplanes … they hang from the ceiling. So I have the remote control cars, the dolls, and all the little things that people can see.
In the background, I have a window directly behind me, and you can see the stars and the light and the twinkling. … Then on both sides, we have … the old oil-filled lanterns that are flickering. You just see them all day long. You can see my candy cane water pump, which is wonderful. I got my little teddy bear standing by.
And then the elves are running in and out. So I'll pop them in, and they'll say hi. And they just pop in from the side, the top, the bottom, whatever. So it's pretty active in here.”
He says kids are asking him for the same types of toys, and the Nintendo Switch is particularly popular. However, he never promises them anything. “I always say, ‘Santa likes to surprise you. I'm going to go over the list twice. And let's see what we can do.’”
Some of them also ask for non-physical things, like an end to the COVID pandemic. Uva then explains that throughout history, different diseases have come up. He reassures them, “Our science is wonderful nowadays. So the new diseases come up. And then new devices and serums will come up and fix it. So never give up. You're going to win. We’ll beat this thing.”
For kids who want to book a session with him, they can turn to a company he works with called Santa The Experience. It’s a five-minute live interaction. Uva also asks parents for a little information on their kids, so he can sometimes surprise the kids with questions like, “How’s your best friend Johnny doing?”
Why didn’t Uva decide to take a break this year, given the pandemic?
He says somebody has to do it. “And I was blessed to be able to do this job. … You want to get as many children as you can. It's sort of like that movie saying, ‘pay it forward.’ And I know all the little seedlings out there, someday they're going to be future Santa Clauses. And so if we can just keep that field growing and growing and cultivating, that's what it's all about. That's why I became Santa.”