Pandemic likely to derail winter holiday traditions

'Trying to imagine lines of people and kids in place for sitting on Santa's lap in a mall sounds completely crazy at this point'
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Surging COVID-19 cases in Minnesota and across the country have health officials worried about the upcoming holiday season and the traditions associated with them, especially those traditions that involve children.

"This holiday season is going to look very different for all of us," said Dr. Gigi Chawla, the chief of general pediatrics at Children's Minnesota. "Just trying to imagine lines of people and kids in place for sitting on Santa's lap in a mall sounds completely crazy at this point."

New guidelines for social gatherings went into effect Friday evening in Minnesota.

The guidelines include 10-person limit for indoor and outdoor gatherings. All social gatherings are limited to members of only three households or less, including the host.

"It is going to be incumbent on us to celebrate this holiday season and keep our families close," Dr. Chawla said. "That is going to be really smaller-type family units. Maybe your own primary or immediate family while finding ways to remain socially distant, but close at heart, with your extended family."

The concerns about holiday traditions, especially those that typically draw large crowds, are being addressed by large retailers, businesses, and event holders.

Earlier this fall, Holidazzle in Minneapolis announced they would opt for a virtual event this year. Several big-name retailers are moving the Santa experience to a virtual one this year.

Even the Mall of America is reimagining the winter holiday season.

"Santa is absolutely coming to the Mall of America this year, but it is going to be a different experience based on the COVID-19 requirements," said Jill Renslow, the Senior Vice President of Development and Marketing at the Mall of America.

While families won't be able to walk up and get in line as they normally would in the past, there are a few different options available to keep with tradition.

"Santa will be set-up in a workshop so families will be able to take photos that way, or people can connect virtually at home," Renslow said. "We will also launch a virtual experience. Of course you're going to have to have a Zoom experience with Santa in 2020."

The Mall of America will require in-person photo sessions with Santa be scheduled.

"Santa will not be out in the commons area of the mall this year," said Renslow.

The changes for the 2020 winter holiday season come with a reminder to keep tabs on the mental health of youngsters.

"As adults we might be able to understand the trajectory and plan for COVID-19 while see the light at the end of the tunnel," Dr. Chawla said. "Kids may live more in the moment and day to day. It's just really really hard for them if they feel like something is being taken away from them, like the holiday season experience. Take your child's mental health seriously. Reach out of if you even think they might be having a tough time."

Children's Minnesota has created a Living Now site aimed at helping children and young adults through different life challenges.