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With the ongoing pandemic, planned group celebrations for birthdays, weddings, and the holidays have had to be put on hold. And with the prospect of a vaccine still uncertain, it's apparent that Christmas will look a little different this year too. And that means no traditional "Santa's knee." But, the Santa business (yes, it's a billion-dollar industry) found a way to pivot this season to keep the festive magic alive for kids across the country. How? Personal virtual Santa messages.

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It's The Real Santa is using technology to deliver custom Santa visits via video that highlights the child's individuality. Parents provide names, hobbies, pet names, and all things that make them unique to Santa ahead of time, and he records every greeting fully equipped to help make a child's dream come true. The video addresses the child by name, mentions those details provided by their adults, and comments on their Christmas lists.

"This year, the need for joy and normalcy is more important than ever," Joe Harkins, co-founder of, told Departures. "Most parents are willing to do anything to help their children feel the magic of the Holiday season, so this was close as we can come to having the traditional personal interaction with Santa is key."

The idea for the innovation came from Harkins, aka "Santa Joe" and his friend. Pre pandemic, the 87-year-old was running a very successful Santa business. Over his seven years as a professional Santa actor, he worked with people like Mariah Carey, Nick Cannon, Anna Kendrick, Bill Ritter, and the cast of Impractical Jokers on MTV. But, when a former colleague and friend, Tom Lapke, realized in-person Santa encounters weren't going to happen this year, he reached out to Harkins with the virtual idea to keep his business running.

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"Having the video interaction helps kids to feel the magic of Christmas at a time when they can't go see him in person," said Harkins. "This also helps the parents to see their child happy and, on the other side, every professional Santa looks forward to the joyful daily encounters he provides; Santa needs this just as much as the families."

The company has already received 5,000 pre-launch orders, with the service going live to the public on Wednesday, Nov. 11. The cost for a Santa video is $44.95.


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