WINTER GARDEN, Fla. — Due to the ongoing pandemic, sitting on a mall Santa’s lap just isn’t in the cards for families this year.

What You Need To Know

  • About 30% of Matt Marberry's income comes from work as seasonal Santa

  • Pandemic has made in-person events rare, and in some cases, impossible

  • As a result, Marberry has taken his appearances virtual this year

While the hospitality industry has been hit hard this year in Central Florida, it hasn’t been the same jolly good time for many — it's actually been a pretty stressful year for Winter Garden resident Matt Marberry.

“It’s very different," said Marberry, who works as a seasonal Santa. "Usually, live events is what I do, and we can’t have those safely right now.” 

For places such as the Oviedo Mall, even the Santa experience there — which kicks off Saturday — will be different.

“Santa will sit on a throne behind children," Oviedo Mall Director of Operations Judy Desrosiers said. "Families will sit on a bench 6 to 8 feet from in front of Santa.”

Needing to make money this time of the year, Marberry came up with a way to do that and still create some holiday cheer. He says this time of year accounts for 30% of his annual income traditionally. 

“I’ve decided to go virtually," Marberry said, before getting on a Zoom call. "Now there are some wonderful things about that, though. I am having opportunities to serve as Santa Claus in areas I would never be able to. Yesterday, I worked with a nonprofit in Michigan.”

In-person Santa experiences are also finding ways for families to capture a memorable Polaroid picture.

“This will be a Christmas to remember, good or bad," Desrosiers said. "You are going to remember for good or bad, it's a Christmas to remember, and you are going to remember that Santa pose way more than you remember the smiley, happy ones.”

Traditionally, children across the world will mail a letter this time of year. But this Santa has found a way to answer their call.

“We are going to do anything we can, because it is not just a job for us, it's a passion to bring smiles to peoples face," Marberry said.

Marberry created his own website, Zoom calls last 10 minutes for a cost of $35, and he’s available 24-7 until Christmas.