Mr. Arnold said he planned to keep a safe distance from children at three scheduled engagements by sitting in a snow-globe-like structure, an oversize sleigh and a fire truck. He will also wear a handmade mask voluminous enough to contain his mustache and eight-inch-long beard. (Mr. Arnold, who said he earns up to $250 an hour by wrapping his 255-pound, six-foot frame into his Santa get-up for public appearances, is a proud member of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas.)
“We want to emphasize Christmas is going to come regardless of the current health situation,” he said. “Don’t be anxious about it; Santa is going to find a way.”
Mr. Arnold is one of the fortunate ones. With the virus raging, many Santas are finding themselves out of work this season.
Timothy Connaghan conducted a “Red Suit Survey” of many of the 4,500 or so graduates of his International University of Santa Claus and found that about 20 percent of the 361 Santas who replied did not expect to work at all this year.
“Because of their own health concerns they are not going to go out, or there is no work for them because everything has been curtailed,” Mr. Connaghan said.
Of the Santas who are working, many are playing it safe by going online.
One is Steve Gillham, a professional Santa who in previous years visited children in hospitals. This year he has transformed a guest room in his Chapel Hill, N.C., home into a studio for virtual visits.
Mr. Gillham, 65, will sit on a “Santa chair” — actually a century-old hall tree, or bench attached to a coat rack — facing an array of computer screens. When the children appear online, his wife, Debra Gillham, will be offscreen, secretly feeding him cues so he can talk to them as if he knows them, chatting about their age, hobbies and toy preferences using information provided by their parents. He will also tell stories and pull surprises out of a bag.