How Christmas' merriest man is adjusting to a strange season

Even jolly old Santa Claus, who can travel the globe in a single night and shimmy down millions of chimneys undetected, isn’t immune to the effects of COVID-19. 

No one knows this better than Rob Harmon of Newark, the president of the Buckeye Santas, a group of about 70 independent Kris Kringles who spread Christmas spirit at malls, gatherings and homes statewide. The organization—which also includes women portraying Mrs. Claus—was founded in 2007 to provide details on potential gigs, share information on good and bad clients (a naughty-or-nice list, if you will) and talk shop to help members become better at their craft. 

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Normally, the Buckeye Santas would meet nearly every month, but they’ve opted for Zoom calls since the pandemic worsened in late spring. As Harmon points out, they’re vulnerable because they tend to be heavier and older, with an average age nearing 70. The group’s leadership encourages everyone to exercise, get flu shots, stay hydrated and take vitamins. To be the best Santas they can be, they must maintain their health, Harmon says. Some members plan to sit out the season altogether, while others have adopted 21st century Christmas magic. Tech-savvy Santas bought green screens, which they’ll use to create North Poles for virtual calls with existing clients. 

Harmon’s mall in Newark plans to hold traditional photo ops, albeit tweaked for safety. It will be a noncontact experience, with people wearing masks and Santa set up behind a plastic divider. Harmon compares it to a photo bomb from Father Christmas. “Hopefully I can pretend like I’m a mime or something behind the Plexiglass.”