The only photo Delilah Lopez’s parents have of her with Santa is from her first Christmas, when she was a 9-month-old baby. Since then, she’s become mobile and wised up to stranger danger.

“We have pictures of her running away from the real Santa,” said mom Christy Astle-Lopez. “She’s never asked the real one for anything.”

On a recent Saturday morning, the Lopez family, of Bothell, went to visit their Santa at Molbak’s Garden + Home in Woodinville. Only this year, “Santa” is a cardboard cutout and somewhat less scary. Delilah, now 3, hugged her stuffie and flashed a smile for a few snaps, then she was done.

This year no one’s sitting on a strange man’s lap. The risk of spreading the novel coronavirus means some parents are now scrambling to come up with alternatives. And just like everything else, Santa’s gone virtual or plexiglassed or remote so he doesn’t swap germs with any kids, naughty or nice. 

UPDATING: Want to get in the holiday mood? Check out these 2020 holiday events in the Seattle area

In the case of the regular Molbak’s Santa (John Harmeling, a Molbak’s employee who’s been the store’s Santa for over 15 years), he’s left two COVID-friendly cardboard cutouts of himself — one outdoors and one indoors. 

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Dee Rao, of Sammamish, also brought her daughter, Ahana Ray, almost 4, to see the cardboard Santa at Molbak’s. There was hardly anyone else at the store, so it was easy to pop off masks for a second for a quick picture. Rao, who’s expecting a baby in February, is being super cautious and doesn’t plan to visit any in-person Santas.

Well … except that her father-in-law is coming to help with the baby. “We’re toying with the idea of getting a Santa suit for him,” Rao said.

Cheryl Brenner loves Christmas so much she’d start in October if she could. So it was a huge, huge disappointment when all the holiday events started getting canceled, on top of the kids missing out on all their usual school activities.

In October, an idea popped into her brain. “I looked at my husband and I said, ‘It’s too bad with all the Zoom and remote learning we can’t figure out a way to meet Santa virtually.’ And he said, ‘Well, why can’t we?’ ” Brenner remembered.

Within a few weeks, she hired some Santas (all with real beards) and whipped up meetingsanta.com, a website for kids to Zoom with Santa. Packages start at $25 for a personalized recorded video from Santa.

The three Brenner kids (back to front) —  Charlotte, 10; Evan, 8; and Sabrina, 5 —  chat with Santa on a video call via meetingsanta.com, which their mom, Cheryl Brenner, started. “They loved it,”  Cheryl Brenner said. “At the end, he said, ‘I just want you to know you’re all on the nice list.’ And we were like, ‘Yesssss!’ It was super cute.”  (Cheryl Brenner)
The three Brenner kids (back to front) — Charlotte, 10; Evan, 8; and Sabrina, 5 — chat with Santa on a video call via meetingsanta.com, which their mom, Cheryl Brenner, started. “They loved it,” Cheryl Brenner said. “At the end, he said, ‘I just want you to know you’re all on the nice list.’ And we were like, ‘Yesssss!’ It was super cute.” (Cheryl Brenner)
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“Really, selfishly, we just wanted our kids to have this experience,” said Brenner, a Magnolia mom of three and former teacher. “Especially around Seattle, we’re all kind of cooped up. All the days are pretty monotonous. With the kids not being in school, I just want kids in general to have something to look forward to. If they believe in Santa, I don’t want a year to go by.”

Mike Hipple’s kids — 12 and almost 14 — are on the cusp of Santa age; his son barely tolerated last year’s Santa photo and had said he wasn’t going to do it this year. Seeing Santa at the downtown Nordstrom had been their family’s annual holiday tradition, followed by getting hot chocolate and doughnuts from a vendor at Westlake and riding the carousel.

“None of that this year,” said Hipple, who lives in West Seattle. “I was probably more disappointed than the kids; they’re getting older now and less interested in Santa. It’s more for us parents now, really.”

This year, the family opted to check out WildLanterns at Woodland Park Zoo instead. They even had the little doughnuts at the zoo. “We’ll go back to see Santa next year,” Hipple said, “likely dragging our teenagers.”