GARDEN CITY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Getting an early start on holiday shopping was at the top the some people’s to do list this week.

Many families that headed to malls were surprised to see Santa waiting for them, CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan reported.

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Santas are back in the malls and fully vaccinated.

The Scuereb siblings from Lynbrook perched on Santa’s lap for the very first time.

“I hugged Santa… I love Santa!” they said.

Rebounding from a year filled with sadness and uncertainty, 2020 kept Santa behind clear, plastic sheets or fully masked and social distanced.

“We couldn’t have kids sit on my lap. They had to stay six feet away and sort of shout what they wanted for Christmas,” said Bryant Park Santa Dr. Charles Nuttal.

“Last year was very tough. But we did write our Santa list, we mailed it out to the North Pole,” said Surita Jameron, a mother from Queens Village.

Many of those letters revealed the toll the pandemic was taking.

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“Please find a cure for COVID,” one said.

“This year’s been rough for my mom. She can’t afford anything,” another said.

“It’s really hard, but I’m trying to be good,” said a third letter.

Now, Santas can bring up-close cheer.

“I’ll encourage them to pull my beard, and some of them pull pretty hard,” said Nuttall.

Across the country, the tight labor market is making it difficult to find enough qualified Santa candidates willing to don the costumes and work scattered shifts.

“Santa arrived this morning and there were people waiting on line to greet him from the North Pole,” said Nancy Gilbert, marketing director for the Roosevelt Field Mall.

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Families are able to make reservations if they want to secure a specific time slot.

Jennifer McLogan