Other Santas worked behind plexiglass, or “one reindeer apart, as we like to say in the Santa world,” said Tim Connaghan, who runs a Santa school and serves as the national Santa face of Toys for Tots. (A reindeer, if you did not know, is roughly six feet long.)
Some Santas tried going virtual. But the technological leap could be a big one for some among a population largely over 65. Mr. Gillotte, a relatively young Santa at 58, led training sessions for Santas on how to conduct virtual visits.
“Because so many guys were having trouble with green screen stuff,” he said, “we started to transition them to ‘just decorate a wall.’”
This strange time has in some ways led to a lasting expansion in Santa’s business, another reason things are booming today. Some Santas who figured out the virtual visit still offer it. A few of Santa’s tricks actually work better that way (it’s easier to perform magic virtually, or to glance at notes with all the children’s names and wish lists).
That means some families who could never reach Santa now can. And other families who previously thought Santa worked only at the mall discovered during the pandemic that he did home visits, too. That kind of Santa work is in big demand.
Of course, it’s hard to say if there will be such good times for Santa next year. The economy might sour, or the pent-up demand may recede. But there have been dark days before, even plagues and pandemics, said Mr. Connaghan, who last week was in the middle of a run of Santa appearances with Mariah Carey.
“The tradition of St. Nicholas has been around now, what, 17 centuries?”
Ben Casselman, who embodied the holiday spirit of giving, contributed encyclopedic knowledge of government wage data.