While many families will make the trek to their local mall in the coming weeks to get the traditional photo of the kids with Santa, a trend that started during the pandemic appears here to stay: Virtual Santa visits.
For a fee, dozens of websites offer the option to chat with Santa via Zoom, Facetime, Skype or other video chat apps.
Virtual visits gained popularity during the pandemic as people aimed to avoid the coronavirus. But the appeal remains this season as cases of the respiratory virus RSV are on the rise and parents worry about young children being hospitalized as a result.
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Is RSV on the rise in 2022?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, are much higher than normal this season. The disease is especially dangerous for young children who often have to be hospitalized to treat the virus.
RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children younger than 1 year of age in the United States, according to the CDC.
The hospitalization rate for RSV in mid-November was four times as high as the same time last year, according to CDC data.
What are the advantages of a virtual Santa visit?
Besides avoiding germs, having a virtual Santa visit allows kids to have more personal one-on-one time with Father Christmas without holding up a long line of annoyed mallgoers.
You also don't have to stand in said line.
And if your kid is the one who freaks, cries or is otherwise terrified of being put on a stranger's lap, a virtual call may make for a comfortable experience for them.
"Getting the family ready for photos with Santa, driving to the mall, and waiting in long lines – these are holiday traditions best left in the past! Comfy pajamas and hot cocoa are all you need to get ready for your video call from Santa!" says House of Kringle's website.
Sending information ahead of time about your kids' interests will also make the experience more magical and personal.
How much does a Zoom with Santa cost?
Because you're getting a private audience with the big man himself, a virtual Santa visit will cost a bit more than a typical mall photo – although there's no spending on gas for the car or impulse buys while at the shopping center.
The shortest sessions, typically 10 to 15 minutes, start in price at about $30 and go up from there depending on the Santa, the length of the call, and whether it's during the day on a weekday or a more peak time like Christmas Eve.
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The most expensive session USA TODAY found was $750 for a 55-minute call on a holiday with Santa Ed Taylor, a regular in Hollywood playing Santa in many commercials and TV shows.
Many Santas also offer the option to purchase a pre-recorded video message, which can cost a bit less. You'll provide Santa with details about your kids, like ages and interests and Santa will send a video saying hello to them.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Zoom with Santa: Virtual visits help families avoid lines and germs