There’s Misery on 34th Street.
The wonder of wide-eyed children is in short supply at Macy’s Santaland and the city’s other seasonal landmarks this year, as COVID fears and government mandates gift kids with joyless memories of Christmas present.
The Hollywood classic “Miracle on 34th Street” cemented the image of Macy’s as a magical place where Christmas dreams come true. “I kept believing and you were right mommy, Mr. Kringle is Santa Claus!” enthused little Susan Walker, her heart finally melted by the department-store Santa.
But this year, St. Nick wears a creepy red mask while sitting behind a desk as if a detached CEO, socially distanced from bored toddlers, also masked.
Children sat on Santa’s lap the last time Santaland was open in 2019. Not anymore.
“Guests will visit Santa in his office this year and will be seated opposite Santa’s desk,” says an edict on the Macy’s website.
“What’s the point of going if your kid can’t sit on Santa’s lap?” one frustrated parent texted to friends after visiting the winter wonderland on the eighth floor of the Herald Square store.
And even before entering Santa’s office, kids and their parents take a Polar Express to pandemic depression.
The line through Santaland is filled with hand-sanitizing stations, social-distance warnings, and several mask-up reminders, noting “reindeer excluded” from the governor’s mandate. But the kids aren’t laughing as they wait 40 to 90 minutes in masks to visit with Saint Nick.
“Now you have all these poor small humans trapped in a joyless city,” said a Manhattan mom who took her two children to Santaland in 2019 but passed on the chance this year after hearing reports from other parents.
“Some of these experiences (for children) will never return to normal,” she fears.
Frustrated parents blamed an ongoing overreaction to a virus that has little impact on children, along with Gov. Hochul’s last-minute Grinch-like mask mandate.
“No other state is coming down as hard on children and it all goes back to the governor,” said the Manhattan mother of two, ages 9 and 6.
The mask order by executive fiat went into effect this week and is slated to end Jan. 15, perfectly timed to book-end what once was the most wonderful time of the year.
The mandates requires that masks be worn at indoor public places unless businesses or venues implement a vaccine requirement for anyone 12 years of age or older.
Macy’s says Santaland’s visitors and inhabitants were required to be masked up before the Dec. 10 Albany order.
“We weren’t happy with the picture (taken by Macy’s of kids with Santa) or the experience,” said a Queens mother of three, citing the long wait to see the socially distanced Santa and the inability to watch her children smile behind their masks.
But Macy’s is not the only place citing safety concerns ahead of the hoiday spirit.
Parents this year note you can’t take your kids to see “The Nutcracker” and enjoy its beloved “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” without masking any kid older than 2. Seeing the Rockettes in the Radio City Music Hall’s iconic Christmas show is now no longer an option for anybody, after it closed Friday because of COVID spreading through the production.
Data shows children face little risk from COVID.
Parents are speaking with their feet. Attendance appears to be down dramatically at Santaland, though part of that decrease is by design.
“In order to safely return the Macy’s Santaland experience to guests in person this year, we implemented both a reservation-only system and a reduction in the overall capacity,” said Macy’s spokesman Orlando Veras.
Reservation slots have been booked days in advance, Veras added, while noting that families can no longer walk in off the street hoping to meet Santa, “in order to more effectively manage the overall capacity, limit lines and ensure ample space for social distancing.”
Maybe Christmas future will be better.
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