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Santa sightings will look different in Tucson during COVID-19 Christmas

Santa sightings will look different in Tucson during COVID-19 Christmas

Photographer Georgina Anderson likes to give her clients the full “North Pole” experience when they hire her for the holidays.

For the last several years, Anderson and her husband, Jon Anderson, owners of Something Blue Photography, have turned the property next to their downtown office into Santa’s workshop. Kids meet and interact with Jolly Old St. Nicholas while Anderson sits quietly off to the side, capturing the whole thing with her camera.

Santa, played by Jon’s brother Corey, shows visiting children their names on his “nice” list, a nod that all but guarantees a stack of presents under the tree, and uses a globe to point out the places he’ll be delivering presents on the big day.

“We try not to make it a formal photo shoot,” Anderson said. “It’s all about the interaction.”

Anderson plans to continue the tradition this year but with added precautions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Families will be temperature-checked before they come into the building and “Santa-tizing” elves will deep-clean the studio between each session.

Santa will be wearing either a face shield or cloth mask, whichever the client prefers, and will have several sets of gloves that will be switched out throughout the day.

The Andersons will also have props for children to sit on — benches, wagons, even a small sleigh, in lieu of Santa’s lap.

“Every day, we are coming up with new ideas to keep people safe,” Georgina Anderson said.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, there will be fewer Santa sightings in Tucson this year, but several events will still offer a chance to see Kris Kringle in action.

Reid Park Zoo announced on its Facebook page last week that Santa will be part of its Zoo Lights: Holiday Magic program, running from Dec. 4 to Dec. 30.

Children will be able to have a socially distanced meeting with Santa in the zoo’s North Pole Village, a newly added attraction this year.

And Santa will be waving to cars passing by during Marana’s Christmas Cruise on Dec. 5, a driving event that gives residents a preview of the town’s Christmas tree light show.

Costumed characters, accompanying Santa in Marana, will be handing out goodies to the children, according to the town’s website.

Brookfield Properties, which owns Park Place and Tucson Mall, have Santa setups at both locations starting this weekend.

Brighid Dawson, general manager at Park Place, said in an email that the company Brookfield works with to run their Santa experiences, Cherry Hill Programs, will be providing enhanced cleaning and there will be reduced physical contact between Santa and his visitors, with all staff workers required to wear face coverings, including Santa.

Reservation-based transactions are being encouraged as walk-up visits will be limited, she said.

Dawson said Brookfield has also partnered with JingleRing, a company offering virtual visits with Santa that can be reserved through the Park Place and Tucson Mall websites.

Besides the abundance of caution being exercised by businesses and organizations that might otherwise hire a Santa during the Christmas season, Fred Selinsky, chairman of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas, said that the Santas themselves are also being cautious.

The group, with more than 2,000 members around the world and close to 100 in Arizona, provides Santa training, access to costuming and affordable background checks that its members can show to prospective employers.

Selisnky, who is based in Phoenix, said many of the group’s members didn’t apply for the background checks this year and are not actively looking for Santa work.

“They don’t want to take the chance,” Selinsky said. “Most of the Santas are retirement age. A lot of them have extra weight, that jolly, ho-ho-ho bowlful of jelly. That doesn’t make them all that healthy, let’s put it that way.”

With 23 years as a professional Santa under his belt, Selinsky would normally be part of the cast at the North Pole Experience in Flagstaff. The fully immersive Christmas attraction, which brings in families from all over the state, announced in October it would not be returning until the 2021 season.

Instead, Selinsky said he is spending more money this year to be Santa than making money, participating in charitable, socially distanced Christmas events around the Phoenix area.

“Some of the Santas my age rely on the little bit of income that they get this time of year,” said Selinsky, 71. “For some, it is more than just a little bit of their income.

“I put enough savings away, that I am just kind of weathering the storm. I am happy just giving back this year.”

SANTA SIGHTINGS

All Santa events are practicing social distancing protocols to keep people safe. Please visit their individual websites to see what actions they are taking.

Park Place

5870 E. Broadway; parkplacemall.com

Park Place is holding in-person photo sessions with Santa from noon to 6 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays and 1-5 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 23. Sessions are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Photo packages range from $39.99-$49.99. Reservations are recommended through parkplacemall.com/en/visit/holiday.html.

Tucson Mall

4500 N. Oracle Road; tucsonmall.com

As Tucson Mall is owned by the same parent company as Park Place, the schedules and procedures for in-person Santa visits are the same: from noon to 6 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays and 1-5 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 23; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Photo packages range from $39.99-$49.99. Reservations can be made through tucsonmall.com/en/visit/holiday.html.

Something Blue Photography

312 S. Convent Ave.; somethingbluephotography.net

This downtown photography studio is offering a full “Santa Experience” photo shoot Dec. 12-13. Customers are given the chance to interact with Santa in a socially distanced way for 15 minutes while a photographer snaps pictures. Sessions are $199 per family. Reservations are required and can be made through the studio’s website.

Zoo Lights: Holiday Magic at Reid Park Zoo

3400 E. Zoo Court; reidparkzoo.org

Reid Park Zoo brings back its Zoo Lights, holiday light extravaganza this year, this time with a North Pole Village where guests are invited to have a socially distanced visit with Santa Claus.

Zoo Lights starts at 5:30 p.m. each night from Dec. 4 to Dec. 23, with encore nights Dec. 26-30. Tickets must be purchased through the website. Santa will not be on site Dec. 26-30.

Tickets are $11 general admission, $9 for seniors, $7 for children.

Marana Christmas Cruise

Near the Marana Municipal Complex, 11555 W. Civic Center Drive; maranaaz.gov

Marana will be holding a one-day drive-thru Christmas event on Dec. 5 where guests can get a preview of the town’s Christmas-tree light show and catch a glimpse of Santa along the route.

Children are invited to pass along their Christmas letters and wish lists when they pass by Santa’s station. The event will also feature the Marana High School Symphonic Choir singing carols. There will be giveaways to the first 1,500 children. The evening runs from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

The Christmas-tree light show will take place each night in December from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Visit the website for more information.

Tohono Chul Virtual Santa Visits

tohonochul.org/santa

Tohono Chul is partnering with Tucson Electric Power this year to offer virtual experiences with Santa Claus. Customers can request prerecorded videos from St. Nick ($15 for five minutes or $25 for 10 minutes), or have live Zoom chats, which range from $20 to $30. Visit the park’s website for more information.

Oro Valley virtual holiday tree lighting

saaca.org/holidayfestival.html

Santa will make an appearance at the Oro Valley holiday tree lighting on Dec. 5. The event will take place online as part of a five-day virtual holiday festival put on in partnership with the Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance. The festivities begin on Tuesday, Dec. 1, with nightly online performances.

In addition to Santa on Dec. 5 and the tree lighting, which begins at 6 p.m., there will be a home Christmas carol singalong and online gift-card giveaways. Visit the SAACA website for more information.

Contact reporter Gerald M. Gay at ggay@tucson.com or 573-4679.

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