In their letters to Santa, Fredericton kids worry COVID-19 will stop him from coming this year

·3 min read

Kids who have been writing emails to Santa this year aren't so much concerned about getting coal in their stockings — it's COVID-19 they're worried about.

While some children are asking for Lego and computer gadgets, other boys and girls have been asking if Santa will be keeping his distance this Christmas Eve or whether old Kris Kringle is safe from the virus.

"They're just concerned for old Santa," Ralph Runtz said from his home in Fredericton.

Runtz, 74, has been dressing up as Santa for more than 30 years, and since the beginning of November he's received hundreds of emails from kids in the New Brunswick capital and from farther-flung places like Hawaii.

"They're worried about the virus of course."

Santa's still coming on his sleigh

In his own emails, which he types on his computer in his office filled with electric trains, Runtz assures the kids that Santa will be coming this year — as long as they're fast asleep on Christmas Eve.

"I told them it might be a lighter load this year."

Runtz, who played Santa Claus at Fredericton's Regent Mall for 26 years, has visited with a wide range of people, from five-day-old infants to adults well into their 90s.

Runtz landed his first gig as Santa after seeing an ad in the local newspaper. After reflecting upon childhood memories of visiting Santa in P.E.I, he decided to give it a go.

And every year, the Charlottetown native dresses in his red suit with a few bells "here and there" and his big black boots to send good cheer to those who need it most.

The Regent Mall in Fredericton decided to cancel visits with Santa this year, while other places put St. Nick behind a large piece of plexiglass so children could still get their photos taken.

"Unfortunately, this year requires a relatively small sacrifice in the spirit of the greater good," Myrna Brideau, marketing manager at the Regent Mall, said in a statement.

Runtz said it's been tricky doing his regular Santa visits with COVID-19, mostly because he can't find a mask that would be able to cover his bushy white beard.

"I'd probably have to get something as big as a diaper and put it right over my whole beard," he said with a laugh.

Missing all the boys and girls

But his biggest struggle this Christmas, is missing out on all the children — particularly those who need a listening ear because of the recent challenges they've faced.

"Children lose pets and they have accidents, break an arm or a leg or something," he said. "It bothers them."

One of his goals this year was to land a spot in the Kinsmen Santa Claus Parade in Fredericton, a job he's had his eye on for the past three decades.

Last month, the city decided the parade wouldn't go ahead because of concerns about spreading the virus.

"It would've been nice, but they would've wanted to shake hands or sit on my lap," he said. "And that's the thing COVID-19 won't allow."

But Runtz said he's hoping the parade will go ahead next year.

"It kind of spoils Santa a little bit from doing all the stuff he likes to do."

Instead, he'll put his focus on selecting the perfect toy for kids in the area this year.

"There's a lot of boys and girls who think they've been really, really, really good."