Santa is finding creative and safe ways to visit kids this holiday season everywhere from behind acrylic and railings to fully online virtual meetings.
Scuba Santa at the St. Louis Aquarium
The St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station is showcasing Scuba Claus, an underwater Santa Claus at 11 a.m., 1:15 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays through Sunday, Dec. 20 as well as 1:15 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 21 through Thursday, Dec. 24.
Scuba Claus and elves dive into a shark habitat, and an elf is on a communication system that allows them to interact with the audience on the other side of the tank, according to the executive director of the St. Louis Aquarium Tami Brown.
“You can talk to the elf and ask questions about the animals they’re swimming with, about Scuba Claus, or make your holiday wish … We have an entertainer standing in front of the wall with a microphone, and through that microphone they can speak to the elf, and the elf can speak back to the audience,” Brown said. “So our guests can communicate with them through the seven inches of acrylic.”
Brown said seeing Scuba Claus is included in the ticket for the aquarium.
“It is included with your aquarium visit and you do not have to sign up to see Scuba Claus specifically, but we do encourage you to purchase your tickets for the aquarium in advance,” Brown said.
There is nothing like the glee on the childrens’ faces when they interact with Scuba Claus and his elf, according to Brown.
“I just love the look of wonder in kids’ eyes when they come into the gallery and see Scuba Claus in there swimming in there with the sharks,” Brown said. “It’s an expression I can’t even describe, it’s really fun.”
Brown said she believes the aquarium is one of the safest ways to visit Santa Claus this year.
“A visit with Santa is of course a huge part of every holiday season, and this year with COVID, we’ve put a super safe spin on it,” Brown said. “You’re separated by seven inches of acrylic, salt water and a bunch of other things, so it’s probably the safest way you can interact with Santa this season.”
While Scuba Claus is the main Christmas attraction for the aquarium, Brown said there are plenty of other areas of Union Station to explore as well.
“That’s the main feature at the aquarium, but Union Station has [the] Believe! Polar Express Experience, their pancakes with Santa, lunch under the lights, and the whole observation wheel is lit up green and red for the holidays, so there’s a lot happening,” Brown said.
For more information, go to the St. Louis Aquarium website.
Virtual Meet & Greet Santa through Edwardsville High School
The Edwardsville High School’s Winter Color Guard is hosting a Virtual Meet & Greet with Santa from 5-8 p.m. on Dec. 16-17 and Dec. 21-22.
Leah Cummins, Director of EHS’s Winter Color Guard, said each video session costs $20 for one child and $8 for each additional child. She said each Zoom meeting will be about 5-6 minutes, but will allow the customer 10 minutes total to make sure everything goes smoothly.
“We’ll give every person a 10 minute time slot, just to make sure each person’s Zoom has enough time to log in, everyone can hear each other, and we’ll have a secure connection,” Cummins said.
Cummins said each meet up will be personalized and catered to the child or children based on a registration form the parents or families fill out. She said Santa Claus will have access to this information before the meeting.
“We’ll ask the child’s name, age, what the child wants from Santa, what’s their favorite toy or favorite interest, and then I also have an option for the family or parent to include anything else they would like Santa to know, so that way it’s kind of up to them,” Cummins said. “Like, if there’s a special circumstance [such as], the parent says, ‘My child’s been really good this year’ or something like that, maybe something the parent’s been working on with the child, so that they can include that in the meeting.”
Cummins said she hopes to also include a small token from Santa Claus, given COVID-19 regulations will allow it.
“Right now, we are planning on doing, if the parent lives in the District 7 and Edwardsville area, a porch drop off gift, and that’s a surprise,” Cummins said. “As long as our COVID mandates stay the way they are. We may have to cancel that portion … It’ll be like a small token from Santa. That way we can have the child really feel like they connected with him.”
For more information, go to the Virtual Meet and Greet with Santa website.
Santa at the Lucy Haskell Playhouse in Alton
Haskell Park hosted their annual Santa at the Playhouse on Dec. 5 at the Lucy Haskell Playhouse in Alton.
Running the event was Ann Kuebrich, who said they gave the kids gift bags as they came to the park for the Santa Claus meet and greet.
“The bags had a letter that they could write to Santa, and it also had ornaments and crayons in it so they could color an ornament to hang in there in the tree in the park,” Kuebrich said.
Kuebrich said although the kids could still see Santa, they took safety precautions through social distancing, wearing masks, and not letting the kids go inside the playhouse.
“They stood in line to see Santa Claus, but this year it was different because of COVID,” Kuebrich said. “Typically, the kids would go in the house to see Santa and get to sit on his lap and talk to him, but we couldn’t allow that this year. We had to keep everything outside, so they stood on the front steps, and we had a railing that kept the kids from getting too close to Santa.”
However, she said they were still able to briefly talk to Santa Claus, get their pictures taken with him and leave their wish lists with him.
She said the Alton Municipal Band also made a showing with their brass ensemble who played Christmas carols for them.
Kuebrich said that even though they had a smaller showing this year, she was just excited to still bring Santa to the kids.
“We had about 50 kids,” Kuebrich said. “Typically, we’d have around 100, so a little less than a normal year, but this is not a normal year. We were thrilled in that we were able to still host this event in a safe manner, and give some bit of normality to the kids.”
For more information about this and future events, go to the Lucy Haskell Playhouse Facebook page.