How Santa photos will be different in Australia this year
Exclusive: Children won't be allowed to sit on Santa's knee and may even have their temperature checked for Christmas photos this year.
News Corp has learned major retailers and shopping centres are still planning for Christmas events that are set to look very different as COVID-19 health and hygiene guidelines remain in place.
Some parents have also opted for virtual Santa experiences, with one provider recording an explosion in bookings.
A David Jones spokesperson said Santa would still be meeting kids in store but just a 1.5 metres safe distance at their Magic Caves installations, and virtually via the store's North Pole Hotline.
"All Christmas photography at David Jones will be socially distanced with the use of props and backdrops, and managed in line with current government health and safety advice with the onsite assistance of our Social Distancing Elves," a spokesperson said.
Friends Matthew Nader and siblings Zoe and Jacob Hipolito got the chance to meet Santa at David Jones and test out the new social-distanced set-up.
"This year has been so traumatic and the thought of not seeing Santa would have been really hard on kids who look forward to it every year," Matthew's mother Antoinette Nader said.
"This year more than ever our children need to believe in the magic of Christmas and have something joyful to look forward to," she said.
Westfield shopping centres, which saw more than 150,000 excited Christmas lovers line up for a Santa photo last year, are also implementing a socially distanced photo experience.
Like DJs, portrait photos will move to a landscape setting to factor in the longer set.
"Physical distancing is an important part of our daily lives at the moment, so we've reimagined some of our much-loved Christmas experiences, including Santa photography and more, to ensure we are bringing to life the festive spirit our customers expect of us while prioritising the health and safety of our customers, our retail partners and our employees," said Lillian Fadel, Group General Manager Centre Experience.
"We are focused on remaining agile to deliver a COVID-safe, festive and enjoyable experience for our customers."
NSW parents Kirk and Tara Thompson, whose three daughters Ava, 8, Willow, 6, and Indy, 3, had the chance to meet Santa at Westfield Tuggerah, and found the distance suited them perfectly.
"I actually prefer it," Ms Thompson said. "We didn't have Santa photos last year. Willow has autism and for some reason it triggered her and she couldn't even see him in the shopping centre. I think if she had to have sat on his lap it would have set her off."
Christmas Memories, which provides Santa photography services at suburban shopping across Victoria and NSW, said under its COVID-safe plan, families must book ahead for their Santa photo.
Company director, Kym Aldred said children may be temperature checked before sitting on a stool, which would be sanitised between each guest 1.5m away from Santa.
Props such as hats and headbands would not be provided, but children were welcome to bring their own.
Santa will also be changing his gloves regularly.
In Victoria, Santa and anyone aged 12 or over who wanted a photo would be required to wear a mask in line with current government guidelines.
"We're looking at strategies and techniques to make Santa's face mask more discreet," Ms Aldred said. "If he has a fake beard, it will be under his beard, not over his beard."
Ms Aldred said she was "still working out the logistics" in how Santa would give gifts.
Myer, and Vicinity Centres, which owns Melbourne's Chadstone shopping centre and Sydney's Chatswood Chase among others, were still tight-lipped on their Santa plans.
It comes as demand for 'virtual Santa' booms, with provider Christmas To You adding more booking times to meet demand.
More than half of bookings were from Victoria, and almost one in three were made in NSW. Queenslanders made up 10 per cent of bookings, while 2.5 per cent were from South Australians.
Originally published as Massive changes to kids Santa photos at DJs and Westfield