Santa's first Covid-19 Christmas season at a favourite Auckland department store will be behind a mask, with a perspex screen and children beside him instead of sitting on his knee.
The big man in red has long met excited Kiwi kids at Smith & Caughey's Enchanted Forest, but pandemic health precautions have forced a re-think this year.
The owners of the 140-year-old department store this week announced bookings to meet Santa are open.
Policies for the event would depend on which Covid-19 alert level the country was in in the month leading up to Christmas Day, managing director Andrew Caughey told the Herald on Sunday.
"If we are at level 3, no Santa visit experience will be possible. Anyone who has booked will be refunded. If we are at level 2, we will operate the booked service only, but no unbooked queuing service will be available as we will not be able to achieve adequate social distancing."
Both booked and unbooked options would be available at level 1, Caughey said.
"Regardless of which scenario plays out, we will be limiting the maximum number of people on the floor to 50 people, with generous social distancing."
A surprised Professor Michael Baker joked this week that there might now need to be a new alert level, just for Santa.
"You've absolutely floored me, nobody has brought up Santa yet," the epidemiologist said.
But although it would likely be classified as a "high risk event," he couldn't see why Santa visits couldn't go ahead if the alert level was low.
However, Santa himself was likely more at risk, given he was older and usually a little plump, paired up with young children who were usually "fantastic virus spreaders".
"So, for the traditional Santa experience, that's on Santa's knee, so that's obviously relatively close, the child might be relatively excited, or distressed, and also Santa will be talking to the child.
"So right away you've got the potential for virus transmission in those circumstances."
But Caughey said they had planned accordingly.
"There will be no sitting on Santa's knee this year. [The children] will either sit on a bench at his feet, or beside him. We plan to have a perspex screen at his side. Santa will be wearing a mask."
Photographers would also be masked and behind a perspex screen, and family groups will be kept apart in the Enchanted Forest.
"All this will be subject to whatever health advice or directives we get from the ministry at the time," he said.
"We want to make this an enjoyable but safe experience for customers, staff and Santa."