MADISON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Despite the coronavirus wreaking havoc on the holidays already, an annual Christmas tradition is going forward in Madison, New Jersey — just with some special socially distanced modifications.
With his team of helpers on hand, Santa Claus didn’t let the pandemic stop him from thrilling children, like the Whitmore siblings.
“I liked it!” 8-year-old Ryan Whitmore told CBS2’s Kiran Dhillon.
“It was so cool. It was amazing. I don’t know what to say, because it was so amazing,” Kathleen Whitmore added.
Madison’s Christmas parade has taken place on Black Friday every year for decades. Fifteen to twenty thousand people usually turn out, so organizers knew they had to make some changes.
“We were nervous about how many people were going to come to the town, so working with the police department [and] the fire department we chose to do this Operation Santa,” said Carmine Toto, with the Madison Christmas Committee.
Instead of a big parade, Santa spent the afternoon driving through every street of the borough, waving to kids and passing them bags of goodies.
The mayor said this was a way to keep the holiday spirit alive.
“Especially this year, you know. Not to do something would have been very painful for our residents and the children,” Mayor Bob Conley said.
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Residents said given how difficult the coronavirus has made it for children to celebrate the holidays this year, the visit from Santa meant more to them than they can put in words.
“There have been restrictions, and we’ve been careful about where we’re going, so the kids do feel that. So it’s nice to do things that are outdoors, safe and still special,” Monice Whitmore said.
“We love that the town organized this and, especially at this time, it’s really nice,” said Dylan O’Shea.
Meanwhile, Santa himself said after watching Madison store owner George Ubertaccio suffer through losing his coffee shop due to COVID, he wanted to spread some holiday joy to the community.
“I think it’s just gonna bring some joy and glee back to some children’s eyes,” he said. “This year, it’s important that we just share the idea of family and love and people sticking together, more so than gifts.”
Santa also had a message to everyone watching. He said it’s important now more than ever to remember that it’s always better to give than receive.
The festivities conclude with a tree lighting that will be live-streamed online. Click here for more information.