Every year, Santa Claus dons his finest red and white suit, his matching stocking cap and a pair of shiny black boots before embarking on a 3,522-mile sleigh ride from the North Pole to Montgomery Mall in Bethesda. He usually arrives at the mall before Thanksgiving and establishes a temporary residence directly outside the first floor Macy’s entrance. After over a month of posing for photos with the youth of Montgomery County, and hearing their gift requests, Santa promptly departs on December 25 to make his annual Christmas present run across the globe.
The mall’s visitors easily identify this world-famous North Pole resident as “Santa.” To everyone else, he is simply Tim — a name he reluctantly revealed to The Black & White. Tim has nearly 40 years of Mall Santa experience under his belt, although his December headquarters isn’t always Montgomery Mall.
“My favorite part of coming to malls every year is the kids,” he said.
On December 14, many children were extremely eager to visit with Mr. Claus at the mall, begging their parents to splurge on a “Santa Magic photo experience.” However, Santa’s annual meet-and-greet sessions aren’t limited to kids and their families.
“We’ve had several pets visit, and I always enjoy the pets,” Tim said. “We’ve had dogs, cats, and one year, I had a chicken.”
At Tysons Corner Center in Virginia, a different Santa Claus sets up shop outside the mall’s Nordstrom. This Santa has traveled to Tysons Corner for meet-and-greets for 37 years, according to NorthernVirginia Magazine. Visitors who didn’t reserve a time slot with Santa weeks in advance waited their turn on a lengthy line at the mall’s photoshoot location, or “Santa HQ,” on the weekend before Christmas.
Despite the strong presence of Mall Santas around the nation’s capital, the United States is currently facing a Santa Claus shortage. This past year, more than 300 Santa Clauses died of COVID-19.
The pandemic also substantially reduced demand for the Mall Santas last year, leaving the industry unprepared to meet skyrocketing interest in the activity during this holiday season. As a result, there were nearly 15% fewer Mall Santas this year compared to most years, according to the Associated Press.
The 2021 Santas took new precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Although top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci reassured Americans in November of 2020 that Santa Claus has “innate immunity” and would not “spread any infections to anybody,” many Mall Santas — including the ones at Montgomery Mall and Tysons Corner — offered families a socially distant option for the photo-op.
The Mall Santas also stay cognizant of their health. At Tysons Corner, a sign informed visitors that “Santa and his elves have been provided with BinaxNOW Self Tests by Abbott, so they can test regularly and stay COVID-19 cautious when it matters most.” Still, the mall’s meet-and-greet rules allowed both visitors and Santa to remove their masks during photos.
The metro area’s Mall Santas all departed on the 25th, but children and families should still make sure to mark their calendars for his return in late November of 2022. In the meantime, any prospective Santas have the opportunity to enroll at one of America’s professional “Santa Schools” to master the trade.