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The year without a Santa Claus? How a Santa's helper prepares for an unusual year

Santa suit, red hat, big belt buckle... and a face mask.

LOWELL, Mich. — Sitting on Santa's lap and telling him what you want for Christmas is a tradition for many children. However, it is not the most socially distanced activity this upcoming holiday season. 

This year, Santa's helpers are trying to find ways to spread joy, while keeping themselves and everyone else safe and healthy. 

 "Kids are usually so excited, they can walk into a setting and see Santa and they're so excited and boom. They fly up into Santa’s lap," said Kraig Haybarker, a West Michigan Santa's helper. "This year, between parents and the elves and Santa, I’m going to have to try and restrain that."

Haybarker is the Santa who typically appears in the Grand Rapids Santa Parade. But that event, and many other gigs, have been cancelled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

RELATED: Grand Rapids Santa Parade canceled due to COVID-19 concerns

He said Santa's helpers all around the nation are planning new ways to bring Santa into kids lives this year. For example, one event Haybarker does every year is at Frederick Meijer Gardens. This year, they are planning to hold live virtual visits with Santa. 

One thing is for certain, Santa will have a few extra nights off this year. 

"I’m probably going to be saddened by the by the fact I’m not out there," sai Haybarker, "but on the other hand, I may be able to watch an old Christmas movie or something. Bowl of popcorn and a glass of milk!"

He said he has some events in the works where he will visit with children. Santa will be wearing a mask or face shield, and the kids will be distanced from him. 

Credit: 13 OYS
Haybarker will wear a face shield like this for some visits with children.

It's sad, he said, to miss out on the intimacy and excitement with the children, but it's worth it to still have the visits. 

"It’s such an important part of kid's and families' lives, period, even without this," said Haybarker of the pandemic, "But then with this going on, it would be nice to be able to bring some resemblance of normalcy to the kids and families for at least a few minutes, so they can forget about everything else going on around them."

He said hopefully this will be a once in a lifetime event, so the photos with masks on will be something families can look back on to reflect and remember the year. 

Oh, and Haybarker has a direct line to the North Pole. He said children in West Michigan have been pretty good this year. Those who have not, well, there is still time. 

"Without all the kids knowing this, we are cutting them some slack this year," said Haybarker, "Knowing it’s more difficult to stay on the good list. Mrs. Claus is cutting me some slack too."

Credit: 13 OYS
Santa's incomplete naughty-and-nice list.

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