Christmas-time in 2020 looks like Elf on the Shelf shoved into plastic jars for “quarantine”, socially distanced visits with Santa, and town Christmas tree lightings going off without an audience to do the countdown. No cookie decorating at the town library, no Christmas street festival with fire performers, no caroling and parades. As a parent, it was so defeating to know we were heading into a holiday season what would be significantly different (and in my mind, duller and sadder) due to COVID-19 restrictions. I was disheartened to miss annual events that we love to attend and decided to do my best to make the season just as magical as the ones before it. But this was a seemingly impossible task. The kids wrote their letters to Santa, knowing that we wouldn’t be able to go to the mall and sit on his lap to tell him about the good things they did this year and the toys they wished to find under the tree on Christmas morning. I saw some friends posting pictures of their kids taking pictures with Santa behind a big sheet of plastic or plexi-glass and while I appreciate the effort, it just seemed to depressing and anti-climactic to me. So when the Bristol Christmas Festival Facebook page posted pictures of Santa’s workshop popping up in an empty store front on Hope St, I was excited. The photos showed a workshop was beautifully crafted by the committee; full of magic, whimsy, and nostalgia. The mix of vintage dolls, sleds and classic teddy bears nestled next to The Child and Elsa created the perfect depiction of a 2020 Santa’s Workshop. And so we waited until after the town’s Grand Illumination and we went.
It was an unseasonably warm, pleasant Friday evening and Hope Street was illuminated by the thousands of twinkle lights (and the town’s signature giant snowflake). The line was socially distanced and long, but it was worth the wait. There were Santa’s helpers all around to the lead the way to and through the line and to make sure families stayed appropriately spaced while they waited their turn to see the big man himself. Even though the line was long, the wait wasn’t. Most store fronts on the way had beautiful Christmas or seasonal displays (including one with Christmas trees and a life-size reindeer!). My kids loved every second (I couldn’t believe it…a pleasant experience waiting in a LINE?!).
Excitement was ramping up as we were finally next. A helper explained the process and made sure everyone used hand sanitizer and then… it was time for the magic. First, the kids got to drop their letters in the mailbox for Santa. Then, I watched my children’s eyes light up as they realized the mailbox was in front of Santa’s workshop, which was full floor to ceiling windows, where Santa was studiously checking his list twice. Then Santa realized he had visitors, came over the window and interacted with each child; high-fives through the window, waves, and giggles. The kids loved it. The former store-front was completely transformed, my kids spotted toys they had at home (and some they wished for). It was a special peek into the North Pole. Photographer Nat Squatrito even takes a FREE picture in front of Santa’s workshop for each family who stops by. And the best part? No having to sit on Santa’s lap and no screaming, just whimsy and smiles all around. My kids talked about it FOR DAYS. Word on the red-white-and-blue lined street is that Santa may even respond to their letters (so if you drop one, make sure to include your return address)!
The town looks straight out of a Hallmark Christmas movie with the white twinkle lights on every tree and historic buildings adorned with garlands and wreaths; it makes for the perfect back drop for such a magical experience. A short walk down the street after you visit Santa leads to the giant town Christmas tree and a little further brings you to the beautifully decorated gazebo; all worth seeing. If you’re searching for some simple, old-fashioned Christmas cheer during this unconventional holiday season, take the time to visit Santa’s Workshop in Bristol. Seriously, even my non-believer, “Can–I-just-play-Xbox” pre-teen loved it, and if it has his endorsement than you KNOW it’s good. This is just what my family needed to kick-start that holiday feeling, especially this year.
*Photos of Santa’s workshop supplied by photographer Nat Squatrito
Be sure to check the website for dates of Santa’s next visit to his Bristol Christmas Festival Workshop!