Social distancing. Festive events canceled. Even Santa has to wear a mask.  What does COVID-19 mean for the 2020 holiday season?

It has been quite a year to say, the least. From a global pandemic to a national movement to confront systemic racism to a chaotic presidential election, nothing about this year has been easy.

Typically, the holidays are a time of joy and cheer where families reunite to celebrate the spirit of the season. This year, however, many people are unsure if that will even happen. So many classic holiday traditions have been impacted or even cancelled including light shows and parades. Some, with a little modification, plan to continue no matter what challenges they may face.

What does this mean for Santa and Mrs. Claus?

Santa Claus said things will continue running up in the North Pole, as long as everyone follows the proper precautions.

Fred Selinsky, also known as Santa Fred or Santa Claus, is the Chairman of the Board at the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas. He has worked with that organization for years listening to children’s greatest hopes and dreams for what they want to see under the tree each year while they sit on his lap.

Things this year though, will be run a little different.

“This year I’ll be doing drive-bys which is a big deal for us,” said Selinsky. “Basically, how it works is either Santa drives through a neighborhood and throws out candy canes and presents to the people watching or Santa stays in one place and people that want to see him can come and drive-by.”

Selinksy said he knows not everyone who wants to will be able to make it to the drive-bys he has planned, so he has another trick up his sleeve, as Santa always does.

“I’m also doing a Zoom-like video chat which will be through,” said Selinksy. “What we’ll do is get the family on the call with the parents and children, and now we’ll also be able to get grandparents on the call too, even if they live far away which is cool because other family members now have a chance to share the Christmas joy with their relatives.”

These video call meetings were designed for families who struggled during the pandemic, whether they lost their job or their hours were cut, and each session will be done free of charge. Selinsky thinks it’s important that families don’t worry about how much a meeting with Santa will cost and hopes with the free calls they can stress a little less and enjoy their time a little more.

Mrs. Claus, also known as Deanna Golden, said she has high hopes for how these video calls will play out.

“The Zoom style meetings I think will be successful because if you look at it from a child’s perspective, all they want to do is see Santa and Mrs. Claus and they’re still able to do that, just not in the normal fashion,” said Golden. “The main thing we’re focusing on is to not take the focus off of the interaction and conversation with the child during the meetings. I’ve talked to several other Santa’s out there who have had these types of visits already and they are saying they have been wildly successful.”

Golden said she realizes that this year many families are losing the spirit of Christmas because many are unsure of what this holiday season will look like, but she made it clear that Christmas will not be ruined by COVID-19.

“Don’t let anything or anyone steal your joy. Christmas is coming. Santa is coming,” said Golden. “He will be delivering gifts and there is no need to worry. Just celebrate your Christmas and realize that the greatest gift this year probably won’t be under the tree.”

Selinksy, also said he knows that some families are going to have to make some new traditions this year and thinks it’s important that we take things day by day and cherish every moment we have with loved ones.

“We have to be in the present. Take today and make the most out of it with your family and friends. Make the most out of right now because we don’t know what’s going to happen next,” said Selinksy. “Be engaged with your family and start new traditions. Not everything should be centered around commercialization and having toys. I think this would be a good year to close in the family and make great memories.” 

How are families handling these changes?

Like many, Pilar Ribera is struggling to figure out how to make this holiday season as normal as possible. Ribera and her family, who live in Phoenix, Arizona, love Christmas and look forward to it every year.

“It’s definitely my family’s favorite time of the year,” said Ribera. “I love that it’s a time where the whole family can come together, and we normally get to go to really cool places together.”

Each year, Ribera and her family go to Christmas light shows, parades and even Disneyland. This year though, all those classic traditions won’t be happening.

“I doubt we’ll be doing much of anything this year just because I’m not sure if I feel like going out is what’s best for my family right now,” said Ribera. “I think we’re all still a little scared because of the coronavirus.”

This year was supposed to bring an especially memorable holiday season as a child was recently brought into their family. Ribera now has a 9-month-old nephew who she adores.

“Little John is probably my favorite human to exist,” said Ribera. “He always makes me so happy and all I want to do is be with him 24/7.”

Her family had many plans for this Christmas before the pandemic hit. They wanted to bring John to sit on Santa’s lap and also introduce him to their many other traditions.

“I really wish we could bring him to sit on Santa’s lap this year,” said Ribera. “I feel like every kid always looks forward to that and it’s sad that he won’t get that experience, especially on his first Christmas.”

Ribera says this year her family plans to stay in and have a nice dinner, but just because they won’t be able to participate in their normal traditions, the Ribera family will stop at nothing to have the best Christmas they possibly can.

“We have already started talking about all the new traditions we want to start this year,” said Ribera. “I know it’s not going to be the way it normally was, but maybe that’s a good thing. Change is good sometimes and I’m excited to see what this Christmas brings us.”

How will the economy be affected by all this change?

One of the biggest things affected by COVID-19 was the economy. Thousands of people were laid off or lost their job and many have not recovered from that.

On the other hand, those who earn a robust salary and were able to continue working through the pandemic, weren’t able to spend as much of their money on things like travel, salons, restaurants and other experiences allowing them to save a lot of their income.

But what does this dichotomy mean for spending this holiday season? It’s hard to say.

Cara McDaniel, an economics professor at Arizona State University, like many other economists, finds it hard to predict the future of America’s economy.

“It’s hard to say which direction sales will go, but my best guess is decrease,” said McDaniel. “Incomes have declined and there is increased uncertainty so that should result in less spending overall, but while income declines, consumers are spending less on travel and entertainment which may result in increased spending on gifts and other durable goods.”

According to Deloitte, a multinational professional services network, total sales in the U.S. this holiday season are expected to grow between 1% and 1.5%, resulting in up to $1.2 trillion in overall holiday spending. Purchases from the wealthy are expected to bolster sales between 2.5% and 3% due to their increase in savings.

Like the country has seen several times since the start of COVID-19, McDaniel said she believes that there may be a shortage of certain goods during the upcoming months caused by pandemic related supply shocks which would ultimately reduce sales.

McDaniel also believes that the type of gifts people will be buying this year will be different from the most popular ones of years past.

“I think people will purchase gifts that can be enjoyed at home like appliances and home entertainment because everyone has been stuck in their houses for so long,” said McDaniel. “I also think online shopping will be much more popular.”

Deloitte predicts that online sales will grow between 25% and 30%, accounting for nearly 17% of total retail sales this holiday season.

No matter how the pandemic has impacted your finances or your ability to continue celebrating family traditions, Santa said it best.

“Keep the spirit of Christmas in your heart throughout the year. Keep that love, hope and joy forever.”