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Socially-distant, mask-wearing Santa Claus returning to Eastridge Mall

Families will be able to take photos with Santa at Gastonia's Eastridge Mall though management made several COVID-19 safety changes.

GASTONIA, N.C. — Santa Claus will return to Gastonia's Eastridge Mall this weekend though the mall's management said the experience will look different compared to past years.

Eastridge Mall's general manager, Steve Stout, said his office has been flooded with calls from parents eager to find out if Santa will return this year.

"Overwhelmingly, they've just been pleased because they were afraid it was not going to occur," Stout said.

While Santa will still be sitting in his big red chair, children will not be able to sit on his lap.

Instead, children will sit on a bench in front of Santa, and everyone must wear a mask except for children under the age of five.

"These guidelines are in place for everyone's safety," Stout said.

He added everyone waiting to meet Santa must maintain social distancing in line, and families should sign up online for a reservation.

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This will be Tiffanee Haney's first Christmas with her young foster children, and she explained to them it's going to be a bit different this year.

"It's kind of disappointing that they won't get to sit on his lap, so safety first when it comes to keeping everybody safe," Haney said. "At least they're still doing it though."

In Charlotte's Foxcroft neighborhood, Ben and Jerry's held an event with Santa on Wednesday night, but the store issued an apology on Facebook the next day after admitting it didn't follow COVID-19 safety practices.

Still, Haney said Christmas is more than just sitting on Santa's lap.

"I think that everybody should just, especially, keep the little ones in their thoughts," Haney said. "Tell them Merry Christmas as much as possible to spread a little bit more Christmas joy."

For more information on Santa's hours at Eastridge Mall, click here.

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