Santa visits, parades called off or modified amid COVID restrictions

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench in up-close visits by Santa Claus this holiday season. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

Several local pre-Christmas traditions — including children spending time with Santa — are in jeopardy as the COVID-19 pandemic zeros in on the upcoming holiday season.

Department store giant Macy’s announced last week that Santa Claus won’t be greeting kids at its flagship New York City store.

And, locally, coronavirus has put the “Scrooge” on holiday events. Some are canceled; others will be held with modifications.

“Right now, it is our intention not to open the Santa House,” said Robbie Murray, spokesman for Envision Frankford.

And, due to compliance with social distancing protocols, Dagsboro, Millsboro and Rehoboth Beach have also canceled Santa House visitations, where children can sit on Santa’s lap or next to him and share their Christmas wish lists.

The town of Georgetown plans to have a modified Santa House event. And the city of Milford and Downtown Milford Inc. have planned drive-thru visitations with Santa, among other modified events with him.

The game plan in Georgetown is to fence off a 6-foot distance from the Santa House on The Circle and have a mailbox, Georgetown Mayor Bill West said. “Kids and family can keep the distance but still talk to Santa,” he said.

Recently, Mayor West put a request out on social media, seeking public support to replace the town’s aging Santa House.

“Santa’s House we use on the Circle is starting to fall apart. I would like to ask the community for help with funds to build a new one that is better and maintenance free,” wrote Mayor West. “The Public Works Department will take on the task of building it. Funds are needed to do this. I’m looking to collect $10,000 to do this. All monies can be sent to Town Hall.”

Santa will parade in Millsboro, without visitations

In Millsboro, Santa is scheduled to ride in the town’s Dec. 5 parade, but the Jolly Old Elf will not attend the post-parade tree lighting or host visitors to the Santa House.

“The tentative plan for this year is Santa will be on the float in the parade — waving. Our initial thinking is we don’t want to tease the kids by having Santa come back to the town center for the tree lighting or have the Santa House,” said Millsboro Town Manager Sheldon Hudson. “Right now, the thinking is not to do Santa at the tree lighting or do the Santa House this year, just to have him in the parade.

“I’ve heard some towns are going to have Santa kind of around but physically separated from the kids,” said Mr. Hudson. “Our thinking is that might do more harm than good. I think the good thing is we are having a parade, so that gives us an opportunity to feature Santa. That is what we are thinking right now, but it could change.”

Frankford’s park event reworked

In Frankford, Christmas in the Park, Envision Frankford’s multi-night tradition, will be held in a scaled-down version. Opening night is the Saturday after Thanksgiving (Nov. 28 at 6 p.m.), followed by the four Wednesday evenings (from 6-8 p.m.) between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“We are in the process of trying to arrange for Santa to stop by on each Wednesday night and collect letters out of the Santa mailbox,” said Mr. Murray. “So kids would be given an opportunity to drop letters to Santa in the mailbox. Then, once a week, Santa would arrive and take those letters or arrive on a firetruck, and maybe one of the elves there could walk the letters out to him and deliver the letters. We’re still in the planning stages, but that is sort of what we have discussed so far.”

Envision Frankford’s Christmas in the Park 2020 will not feature a choir, and there will be no cookies and hot chocolate, as in the past. However, those attending are invited to walk through the park and enjoy the lighting and scenery.

“We are going to encourage social distancing,” said Mr. Murray. “We are in the process right now of getting the permit from the state, just because there is a chance that more than 250 people could show up.”

Rehoboth Santa House to close after 50 years

Along the coast in Rehoboth Beach, Santa letter boxes are the alternative, but the Rehoboth Beach/Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce’s long-running tradition of a Santa House on the boardwalk will end.

The chamber’s executive director, Carol Everhart, said she is saddened that the holiday event is changing.

“Because of the stipulations and regulations, we are not putting Santa’s House on the boardwalk. That is the first time in over 50 years. The Santa House has a lot of history to it. It was created by the chamber many, many years ago. It’s so sad,” she said. “Basically, we just cannot do it with the regulations that are in place. So what we are going to do is at least place several — three or more — locations of Santa letter boxes. So at least kids can put their letters in the boxes.”

Sometime during the week of Thanksgiving, letter boxes will be placed on the boardwalk, at the firehouse, at the chamber office (306 Rehoboth Ave.) and possibly several more locations, Ms. Everhart said.

Laurel hopes for parade

With state permission, a parade will be held in Laurel on Dec. 4, and there might be a Santa House, which is traditionally run by the Odd Fellows Lodge.

“We have to get permission from the state for the Christmas parade. We’re working on that,” said Laurel Town Manager Jamie Smith. “I have not talked to the Odd Fellows. I know the Park & Rec Committee were looking at a couple different things to do, just in case. Obviously, if we are allowed to have the Santa House, the kids aren’t going to be able to sit on Santa’s lap. And, of course, we don’t even know if someone wants to be Santa, considering everything that is going on.”

Laurel Mayor John Shwed is hoping for the best.

“We’re trying to do something. It’s been such a chaotic thing here for the last several months,” he said. “We had a tremendous truck-or-treat out here (this) past Saturday night, about 500 people, adults and kids going through the trunk-or-treat line. People are just thirsting for getting out and doing something. That’s what we are trying to do with the Christmas parade.”

Seaford: Parade shifts to reverse

Organizers of the annual Seaford Christmas parade, set for Dec. 5 at 7 p.m., received state approval Friday for this year’s event, which features a role-reversal twist.

According to Sara Lee Thomas, president of the Downtown Seaford Association, which partners with the city of Seaford on the holiday festivity, the plan is for a drive-thru parade. During this event, all floats, firetrucks and other official entries are parked stationary along a designated route, and spectators drive by to view the entries.

“Spectators would drive through at a very slow pace,” said Ms. Thomas. “The city police department are on board with us.”

The drive-thru parade route is High Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. “We are not encouraging anyone to stand on the street or walk,” said Ms. Thomas.

Santa Claus will be present, but stationed in a fire department bucket truck, she said.

The parade’s theme is “Snowflake Christmas.”

Judges will ride along the parade route to score entries, Ms. Thomas said.

“It has been so challenging, but we’re trying to do something instead of doing nothing … and keep everyone safe,” she added.

Holiday spirit abounds in Milford

Downtown Milford Inc. and the city of Milford are showcasing one-of a kind Santa visits, which will take place from the comfort and safety of vehicles via the drive-thru window at the Milford Customer Service Center at 119 S. Walnut St. These visits will replace those at the Santa House.

Two separate lines for vehicles will form: One will enter on Southeast Second Street and Pearl Alley behind the Milford Museum; the other will enter on Southeast Front Street and Pearl Alley behind First Presbyterian Church. Traffic elves will be on hand to help.

Santa visits are free — but donations are always appreciated — and will run from Nov. 28 until Dec. 20 on Fridays from 5-8 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Santa’s schedule and hints for additional dates and spontaneous events can be found on the Downtown Milford Inc. Facebook page,

COVID-19 courtesies — masks, social distancing, etc. — will be in effect for all events.

Although Santa will not be able to make his usual grand entrance on Walnut Street, he will schedule multiple roadside appearances throughout the holiday season. He may be joined by Mrs. Claus and some elves, too.

In fact, elves for the coming season are needed, and a sign-up link will be coming soon on Facebook.

A life-size image of Santa will randomly pop up in Milford businesses, so families can visit and take pictures. Mrs. Claus will post “Flat Santa” clues on Facebook.

Also, Santa’s House in downtown Milford will be decorated for kids of all ages to peek in and see the magic of the season from Thanksgiving until Christmas.

Santa to appear in Dover

The only scheduled appearance for Santa Claus in downtown Dover this year will be at the Capital Holiday Celebration on Dec. 4.

Judy Diogo, president of the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce, said preparations are in place to keep Santa and the visiting children healthy.

“We will be making changes,” Ms. Diogo said. “Santa will be in place. He won’t ‘arrive.’ He will be in place when we have the event. We have a little building for him, so he’ll be inside the building behind some Plexiglas, and we’re going to set up a special mailbox out in front, so that children can drop their letters to Santa inside the special box.”

Other towns cancel holiday happenings

A couple weeks ago, the city of Lewes announced cancellation of several events.

“It is with great regret that the City of Lewes has cancelled Hospitality Night and the Lewes Christmas Parade. In the interest of safety of the community it was determined that the events could not be held,” the city posted on its website.

All events in the town of Bridgeville are off for 2020. The Christmas in Bridgeville Craft Show is canceled, as is the Christmas parade, according to Bridgeville Town Clerk Ashley Walls.

Although the town of Milton’s annual holiday parade, hosted by the Milton Fire Department, is off, plans are in the works for the annual tree-lighting ceremony at Milton Memorial Park. If it happens, it will be Nov. 27 at 5:30 p.m., Milton Town Manager Kristy Rogers said.

With cancellation of the parade during which Santa traditionally arrives, Ms. Rogers said she has not officially heard if the fire department plans to showcase Santa on a firetruck around town “like they have in the past still to bring that Christmas spirit.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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