Floyd Blakeney has been Santa Claus in the Halifax region for 40 years. He says in all that time, Christmas has never looked like this.
The Halifax Shopping Centre, Mic Mac Mall and Bedford Place Mall are not hosting Santa this holiday season because of COVID-19. Despite this, Blakeney says business is better than last year.
“If anything, it’s doubled,” he said. “That’s a result of major malls not having a Santa.”
Blakeney does have a piece of the North Pole set up at the outdoor recreation store Cabela’s in Dartmouth Crossing. A large sheet of plexiglass separates him and children who get their picture taken. Visits are down compared to most years, Blakeney said.
Home visits have kept him busy this season. Blakeney said he wears a mask and brings his own digital thermometer. He takes everyone’s temperature when he arrives. If anyone has a high temperature, he leaves.
Felix Perry was Santa at the Bedford Place Mall for the past 14 years. Even without that job, Perry said he is still busier than ever.
In a normal year, he would visit between three and six homes in a holiday season. This year, he’s travelled all over the province. He said Wednesday was his first day off since Oct. 1.
“I’ve been everywhere from Prospect to Windsor to the [Annapolis] Valley, and Truro,” Perry said. “I’ve done more travelling in the past two months than I have in the last three years.”
Perry was so busy he stopped accepting jobs outside the Halifax area.
As the number of COVID-19 cases rise in Nova Scotia, Blakeney said he doesn’t feel safe.
“It’s only going to get worse,” he said. After the province announced new restrictions on Tuesday, Blakeney, who is 64, decided he’s stopping all home visits. “It’s not worth it.”
Perry, 66, said he will continue to visit families and groups of four people or less. He said there’s no physical contact between him and clients, he wears a mask unless photos are being taken, and he tries to move as many bookings as he can outdoors.
Despite the latest rules, Perry said he’s still getting more requests than cancellations.
Both Perry and Blakeney are considering more virtual visits with children. Since business has been so good, Blakeney is renovating a room in his house so he can video chat from the North Pole with children anywhere in Nova Scotia.
“I’m going to go totally online,” he said. “Everybody’s safe then.”
Hire a Santa, a Vancouver-based company that normally schedules in-person Santa visits across Canada, started its Chat with Santa program this year because of COVID-19. In the last two weeks, they’ve organized approximately 30 video chats with children and Santas across the country.
“We want to keep the Christmas spirit going,” said Rozmin Watson, a company spokesperson.
That’s why Blakeney is going through the trouble of renovating his home.
“We need something to hold onto,” he said. “We’ve lost so much because of COVID-19. We still need some normal things in life.”