Santa Claus returned to center court at Westfarms on Friday, and is ready to greet visitors of all ages through Dec. 24, 2023.
By Ronni Newton
Santa Claus is back in his place of honor at Westfarms this holiday season, ready to hear Christmas wishes and make memories for families. Santa will be resident in center court daily through Dec. 24, when he will return to the North Pole.
Santa made his grand entrance at 11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 10 – accompanied by ceremonial bells ringing, and he high-fived and fist-bumped everyone he saw as he made his way to center court to take his special seat amidst Santa’s Flight Academy.
A steady stream of visitors came to see Santa on the very first day. “Most have been really good,” the big man told We-Ha.com, although he did mention that one young child “grabbed two handfuls of beard at the same time.” Santa said the boy was probably making sure the beard was real – which of course it is.
Santa’s Flight Academy brings the magic and wonder of the holidays season to Westfarms, spokesperson Amanda Sirica said. One young girl who was about 4 years old was overcome with joy because due to the COVID pandemic it was the first time she had gotten to see Santa in person.
While there may still be some leaves lingering on the trees outside, snow is once again falling inside the 22-foot enchanted sleigh that’s a key part of the sleigh, where children can dance among the flakes. The faux snow, made of muddled rice, is soft but not cold, and is safe if ingested. Westfarms goes through 500 pounds of it every season.
And along with planning a traditional visit with Santa, there are some special events scheduled.
Nov. 20, from 5-7 p.m., is “Santa Paws” day, and visitors to Westfarms are welcome to bring their pets for a special photo session. According to Santa, he has posed with not only cats and dogs, but also a gerbil and the occasional ferret.
A “Sensory Santa” experience is planned for Sunday, Dec. 3, from 10-11:30 a.m., in collaboration with Autism Speaks. “It’s an opportunity for parents who have children with sensory issues,” said Sirica, noting that Santa will be extra considerate of the children’s needs during that event. The lights and the music will be turned down during that time. “It’s the opportunity to see Santa in a setting that’s right for them,” Sirica said.
Santa’s Flight Academy, a 3,000-square-foot holiday season fixture in Westfarms’ center court since 2016, is back in full operation with its immersive experience, providing children with the opportunity to check the weather, power the sleigh, and help Santa deliver presents.
A few updates to Santa’s Flight Academy for 2023 include a new “magic mirror” where surprise characters mimic your motions. There is also a “While Wait” option for people to schedule visits while in the standby line.
While walk-ins are welcome for those who spontaneously decide to visit while at the mall, reservations are strongly encouraged, Sirica said, and may be purchased online in advance. Making reservations comes with an added perk that will delight children – an advance call from Santa before the visit, powered by Portable North Pole.
Cherry Hill Programs has partnered with Westfarms once again for an experiential photo experience.
Santa’s hours are posted online, including several days where a Black Santa will be in residence. “We believe that children should see themselves in Santa,” Sirica said, noting that 2022 was the first year that Westfarms had the opportunity to host a Black Santa and although they were only able to schedule him for two days she said it was a very positive experience. This year Black Santa will be there for four days – which are the only days he was available to visit Westfarms.
Westfarms will also host a United States Marine Corps Toys for Tots toy drive on Dec. 2, outside California Pizza Kitchen. Hartford Healthcare is partnering with Westfarms this year, Sirica said, and there will be a “surprise landing” during the event.
“The stores are already decked out for the holidays,” Sirica said. Many are also offering Black Friday-like sales, and she said she has notice a steady increase in customers over the past week.
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