Covid-19 makes for a slightly different Christmas

7:34 pm on 1 December 2020

Christmas is just around the corner but things are looking a bit different for Covid-style festivities.

Visits to Santa are not quite the same and some traditions have been scrapped altogether, to avoid large gatherings, but the pandemic has not stopped the festive season getting into full swing at Auckland department store Smith and Caughey's on Queen Street.

The Enchanted Forest has been a tradition for more than 15 years, with keen kids - little and big - journeying through the forest before they get their photo with santa.

Olivia West is in charge of the whole operation and said six of the Santas that previously worked at the store had health issues or were elderly and could not work this year due to the risk.

There were 16 Santas on the job this year.

Lights decoration Event Festival outdoor Holiday blur background

Photo: 123RF

"For a lot of santas this is actually their full time job, a lot of them are actually retired, we do have a lot of actors, one of our Santas applied for the police in Queensland so it's been great having him back on board."

Visiting Santa at the store would be a bit different this year, with children unable to sit on his knee, and a glass screen surrounding each side of him.

One Santa told RNZ he had found a few tricks to make an impression on the children.

"The kiddies still like me and of course they do, you know a big jolly fat man in a suit like this ... so they're sitting here and they're standing here, so what I do is I just look at them like this and that gets them laughing."

The Farmers Santa Parade 2017 held in Auckland CBD 26 November 2017

Images Copyright Topic Images Ltd. 
Credit Topic / Hannah Rolfe

The Auckland Santa Parade went ahead on 29 November Photo: Topic Images Ltd / Hannah Rolfe

The suit alone is pretty hot at the best of times - but there was also a new piece of uniform - a red mask that santa had to have on for his whole four hour shift.

Another complication was the delays being experienced at the border.

"We've got a quarantine get out of jail card so we don't have to go through quarantine could you imagine coming from the north pole two weeks here and then doing all your stuff, going back... it would be a disaster."

Preparation for the forest took about three months with 34 workers involved.

West said they were keeping a close eye on the Covid situation and would have to close if Auckland was in level 3.

"Level 2 we would've just had our booked appointments which meant our non booked customers would've missed out then there would've been a lot of upset families."

Parents were pleased too that their children could have their time with Santa.

"He talks about it every year and builds up to December, it's made his day for sure," one said.

Another said: "I think we're probably more excited... it's quite a cool memory to have Santa in his mask."

No caption

Franklin Rd isn't lighting up this year Photo: SUPPLIED

While the forest is still open, some other Auckland traditions will not be going ahead, including the Franklin Road Christmas lights.

Each December for the last 26 years, more than 100 houses lit up with bright and colourful decorations in true Christmas spirit.

The road in recent years has attracted 150,000 visitors on foot or hanging out car windows, but this year residents decided the big crowd was too much of a risk.

Co-ordinator Ross Forbey started the tradition.

"This virus is quite evil - within the community it's uncontrollable and untraceable, if people aren't QR coding we could easily become a super spreader."

A Franklin Rd Christmas display of yesteryear

A Franklin Rd Christmas display of yesteryear Photo: SUPPLIED

He said the decision to switch the lights off had received a mixed reaction.

"The city has really taken it to heart and is really disappointed along with us. Most have been thankful, a few said 'you've ruined Christmas', but we'll be back next year and this is not a normal year."

Forbey said this Christmas was not so merry and bright.

"I would have spent the last month putting up lights, so there has been quite a hole. The street is usually filled with Santas and lights and right now it's just a normal street.

"The smiles on the kids faces, the pleasure they get from it - we've been going for so long now we've gone through a couple generations of families. It's a gift to Auckland."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs