In his 16 years of being a professional Santa Claus, Tom Carmody has never gone through the most wonderful time of year without bringing Christmas cheer to the children of Westminster, Colorado, and beyond. He wanted to make sure 2020 was no different.
Suited in a classic red coat with a fuzzy white trim, Carmody is reassuring believers that Santa is coming to town. Just now, instead of sitting on his lap, he visits with kids virtually in five to seven-minute sessions.
Nothing replaces the personal touch, he says, but connecting online has still brought him — and kids of all ages — much needed joy.
He’s seen kids’ faces light up on the screen as they realize Santa has been busy with his elves in the North Pole and will still be squeezing down their chimneys this Christmas Eve. After all, Santa is a master at social distancing, Carmody explains, because of his limited contact with the human world.
This year in particular, Carmody says he senses a strong feeling of belief through kids’ expressions. He uses time with older children to remind them the importance of the holiday — “the spirit of giving and the spirit of love,” he says.
“And as long as they carry that in their heart, they'll always hear the bell. You know, the quote from ‘The Polar Express.’ If you hear the bell, you still believe,” he says.
People who portray old St. Nicholas have had to get creative this year. Some are meeting with children in person, with social distancing and masks. Chukundi Salisbury, a Santa in Seattle, says the demand to see Santa Claus is the same as usual.
The sad part about his job during the pandemic, Salisbury says, is the little kids who catch one glimpse of Santa and run right toward him.
“When they see Santa, they'll break away from mommy or daddy's hand and they'll run toward you if they want to hug you,” he says. “That's been a challenge or awkwardness, if you will, around being Santa this year.”
Carmody has been mentoring other Santas in his region as the founder of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas. He’s expressed that although Christmas might be a little less holly jolly this year, there will be many more to come.
He is helping Santas, especially the newer ones, navigate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 guidelines to stay safe and prevent the spread, he says. He has also inspired them to think outside of the box.
Carmody just so happens to own a giant sleigh. In his neighborhood, he set up the sleigh so he could ride in the front while kids could be at a safe distance in the back. The event was such a hit he’s decided to do it annually.
Santa’s hugs are unmatched — and living up to that responsibility virtually is a big priority for Carmody. He’s had some practice hugging online through volunteering for the last eight years at a children’s hospital in Denver.
“You learn to reach toward the camera and you have the children reach toward the camera and you just close your eyes and imagine that you were hugging each other and they're able to feel that,” he says. “You can create that feeling even in a virtual world.”
While most of 2020 might have felt like getting a lump of coal in your stocking, Santas like Carmody are still making spirits bright — all the more reason to leave an extra cookie or two out near the tree this year.
This segment aired on December 16, 2020.