By John Lawrence
Here’s a joke: How does Santa clean his kitchen?
Answer: With Comet!
That’s just one of the Christmas jokes that Santa (his real name is“classified” so the kids don’t learn he’s not really from the North Pole) tells youngsters and parents who come to see him inside Westfield Countryside Mall.
“I tell jokes and make children promise that they will love each other and protect each other,” Santa says. “But we are serious about protecting them – and us – from COVID-19 with this.” He puts on a clear face screen and big red gloves with white fur trim.
Another rule: Santa must be at least six feet apart from everyone. That’s why kids can’t enter the interior of the low, red wall that surrounds his chair and Christmas decorations. There is a bench just outside the pen where kids can sit and look up at Santa as he talks to them.
“I can get up closer to them, but not within six feet, and never without my face shield,” he says. “I wear the clear face shield so they can see my smile and see my laugh. And they are happy, it’s the magic of Christmas.”
It worked just fine for Luca Boyd, 3, who looked up with surprise and adoration at Santa, as the symbol of good will and gifts spoke to the youngster over the short wall. It was a private conversation, something shared just between the two of them.
“He just loves Santa, said Gio Boyd, Luca’s mother, who was accompanied to Santa’s visit by Luca’s grandmother, Aurea.
“There are tough moments, though,” Santa told Colorful Clearwater. “I asked a 6-year-old girl if she was minding her mommy and she looked up at me and said, ‘My mommy’s in heaven.’ One never knows what the little ones are going through. Sometimes the only words of encouragement is here, where we tell them someone is proud of them for doing good.”
Santa tells another joke: “What makes Christmas and the alphabet different?
Answer: No L. (Noel).
The Kris Kringle at Countryside Mall is one of many (sorry, kids!) Santas and helpers around the nation practicing safe masking, social distancing and hand sanitizing during Covid.
The kind, joke-telling Santa works for Cherry Hill Programs, a New Jersey company that has provided St. Nicks and elves to 800 malls and other venues in North America for more than 60 years. According to Danielle Bretado, customer service representative for Cherry Hill, clear face shields and distancing are just one aspect of the new normal in Christmas Santa programming.
For instance, the company has developed online video hookups to Santa’s workshop, digital photo downloads, and other online programs so families and kids can safely communicate with St. Nick.
That and other virtual technology uses lets families keep their holiday traditions alive, which the company brands as its “Create Holiday Magic” series. It is yet another way to keep Clearwater families and kids safe from this devastating, and increasingly temporary, pandemic, Bretado says.
But sometimes, nothing can replace a real, live Santa giving your kid encouragement while repeating the parental exhortation for kids to be good.
Here’s a final riddle from our Santa, this one for parents overwhelmed by all the running around during Christmas.
Joke: What does Christmas and your real job have in common?
Answer: You do all the work and a fat guy gets all the credit!
Santa is on duty at Countryside Mall every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call 360-488-0880 to schedule a visit.
Westfield Countryside Mall
27001 US Hwy 19 N Ste 1039, Clearwater, FL 33761
John Lawrence is a free-lance writer who has covered Florida events for decades. He enjoys covering the people and places of Clearwater. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.