Social-distanced Santa

Local Christmas characters missing annual traditions, interacting with youngsters

Posted 12/29/20

COVID-19 won’t stop Santa Claus from making his yearly trip tomorrow night to deliver presents around the world.

According to local and national health officials, Santa is immune from …

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Social-distanced Santa

Local Christmas characters missing annual traditions, interacting with youngsters

Posted

COVID-19 won’t stop Santa Claus from making his yearly trip tomorrow night to deliver presents around the world.

According to local and national health officials, Santa is immune from COVID-19. Plus, he, Mrs. Claus, their workers and reindeer have been in isolation all year at the North Pole, so they have remained healthy and hard at work. (Editor’s note: Please see Page 6 for an exclusive letter from the Clauses to Clear Creek children.)

However, the pandemic has changed a lot for Santa and Mrs. Claus’ local helpers.

Idaho Springs’ Sheri Skelton, who has played Mrs. Claus at the Georgetown Loop for three years, was slated to do it this year before the Christmas trains were canceled.

“I’m missing it like crazy,” she said.

Having Santa and Mrs. Claus on the trains made Christmas sparkle, she described, and without seeing kids as Mrs. Claus, Christmas isn’t as sparkly or fun for her.

“You were making their Christmas,” she said.

Meanwhile, “Santa” Bill Lee is still making appearances, albeit modified ones.

He’s done drive-thru events, including one last week at a food bank in Lyons, and outdoor walk-by events with masks and social distancing.

The most unique one was when he was inside a giant snowglobe while people walked by. It was also very challenging because he had to remain in-character for about three hours, he described.

“Some have been harder, while others are easier,” Lee continued. “But, there are definitely fewer Santa events than normal (this year).”

Lee, who lives in the South Spring Gulch area, said what he’s missed most is telling kids to give their families lots of hugs and kisses during Christmas, and then asking for a big hug too.

Likewise, Silver Plume’s Frank Young, who’s played St. Nicholas at the Georgetown Christmas Market for the last 20 years, said it’s been very strange not donning the miter and vestments this December.

“Adults remember seeing St. Nicholas (as kids)… and it’s always nice to bring those kinds of memories back for people,” Young said.

The true believers

Young was recruited to play St. Nicholas about 20 years ago by friends who organized the Georgetown Market. In recent years, he’s been sharing the role with another person, splitting St. Nicholas’ appearances over the first two weekends of December.

“It’s an enjoyable experience because you’re interacting with people,” he said. “When you put the regalia on, you’re representing almost 2,000 years of tradition.”

In lieu of the market, Young described how he helped ring the bells throughout Georgetown during the tree lighting a few weeks ago.

He considered ringing the bell at the firehouse near City Park his civic duty for the year, adding, “Hopefully, next year, we can get back to the St. Nicholas bit.”

He wanted people to know that, regardless of who is representing St. Nicholas at the market, the actor is enjoying interacting with attendees as much as they are with him.

“I miss it this year, but this is serious stuff,” Young said.

Lee, who has been appearing as Santa for almost 40 years, also has reindeer that he can bring to Christmas events. He also owns a variety of other animals, including burros, goats and sheep, which he uses for Nativity scenes.

Regardless of whether he’s Santa, another character or simply a handler, he always tries to educate people about the animals during the events. Lee added that, while he does miss talking with kids about the spirit of Christmas, he also enjoys spending more time with the animals.

“In some ways, it’s been a relief not doing as much Santa work,” Lee continued. “ … It gets tougher to do it every year.”

Skelton likewise found some silver lining in not having the Christmas trains this year, saying that it would’ve been difficult because of health concerns and Interstate 70 traffic delaying passengers.

During her time working at the railroad, Skelton has donned a variety of uniforms, including mine tour guide. Out of all of them though, Mrs. Claus is her favorite.

She described how adults who rode the Christmas train as youngsters are now bringing their children and grandchildren, and how there are a lot of Southern families who bring their kids here to see snow for the first time.

So, meeting all those families and staying in character all day is rigorous work, especially for the railroad’s only Mrs. Claus.

However, the former first-grade teacher said seeing the joy on the kids’ faces is her favorite aspect of the job, commenting, “They have fresh imaginations and truly believe in the spirit of Christmas.”

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