Santa is skipping Macy's for the first time in 159 years

By Alexis Benveniste, CNN Business

    (CNN) -- There will be no miracle on 34th Street this year. Santa Claus won't be visiting any Macy's stores in 2020, ending a 159-year holiday season tradition.

The department store's tradition started in 1861, but Santa meet-and-greets won't be happening this year because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, Macy's is creating an interactive virtual experience.

"To replicate the magical experience of visiting Macy's Santaland for children and their families, we will shift to a virtual engagement this year," Susan Tercero, Macy's vice president of Branded Entertainment, said in a press release. It will be available online from November 27 to December 24.

Macy's will limit the number of children who can participate: up to three can take part in the customized experience at one time, the company said.

The experience starts with a greeting from virtual elves who lead the way through Santa's village and workshop, stopping to see the sights and play interactive games. At the end, kids will meet Santa through an interactive video, where they'll be able to share their holiday wish list and take a selfie, which families can download immediately, with Santa.

Even though Macy's won't host Santa in person this year, some malls are still participating in real-life Santa visits.

Brookfield Properties, a subsidiary of Brookfield Asset Management Property Partners and the second-largest mall operator in the country, said Santa will be in 134 of its more than 150 malls. But Santa will remain behind plexiglass.

"Santa is an important holiday tradition for many families but we are looking to pivot the experience for safety," Rocell Viniard, the director of portfolio marketing with Brookfield Properties, said.

The "touchless experience" with Santa will be like "a drive-up window type of scenario," said Rocell Viniard, the director of portfolio marketing with Brookfield Properties.

Santa will wear a mask in states with a mask mandate, and guests will be required to do the same. In states with no mask requirement, Santa can wear a mask if he wants to, she said.

Macy's isn't getting rid of Santa completely this year. He'll still be a star of the department store's Thanksgiving Day Parade. But even the parade will look different.

In September, Macy's announced that it's shifting the event to a "television-only special presentation" this year, forgoing the traditional 2.5-mile New York City route and reducing the number of parade participants by 75%. And the 80 to 100 handlers that normally walk the balloons will be replaced by special vehicles.

-- CNN Business' Parija Kavilanz and Frank Pallotta contributed to this report.

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