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Westfarms is Putting ‘Community First’ This Holiday Season

Santa's seat has been moved to the back of the sleigh at Westfarms for 2021, allowing more space for photos and a separate exit for those who don't want to go through the rest of the Flight Academy. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Santa has returned to center court at Westfarms, with a choice of experiences for visitors.

A young girl from West Hartford checks out Santa’s Flight Academy, including the snow falling inside the sleigh, after she got her photo taken. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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, with a choice of experiences being offered to families. Santa will be resident in center court daily through Dec. 24, when he will return to the North Pole.

While Santa was at Westfarms in 2020, it was for a shorter period of time, and all visits were socially distanced. This year there’s a hybrid arrangement, allowing families to choose whether or not their children sit on Santa’s lap, or pose for a photo and interact with him while sitting on cubes that are a bit farther away.

Reid Olear of West Hartford, 10 months, had his first visit with Santa on the day the big guy arrived at Westfarms. Courtesy photo

Santa’s Flight Academy, a holiday season fixture in Westfarms’ center court since 2016, is back in full operation with its immersive experience, allowing children to “join” Santa’s flight crew, choose and be fitted for their virtual flight suit, check the weather, power the sleigh, and help Santa deliver presents.

Snow is once again be falling inside the 22-foot enchanted 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.

A young girl from West Hartford checks out Santa’s Flight Academy, including the snow falling inside the sleigh, after she got her photo taken. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

“Santa’s Flight Academy at Westfarms is a beloved tradition by our community and beyond,” said Alberto Arebalo, general manager of Westfarms. “Our immersive holiday experience is a place for creating special memories and has become a tradition many families look forward to each year.”

Families, however, can choose from two different visitor routes this year: the full Santa’s Flight Academy experience, or just meeting with Santa to pose for a keepsake photo. Those who choose the express route will exit near Starbucks, while others will follow a path to the rest of the holiday experience after sharing their Christmas wishes.

Santa’s seat has been moved to the back of the sleigh at Westfarms for 2021, allowing more space for photos and a separate exit for those who don’t want to go through the rest of the Flight Academy. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

“We are pleased to offer options for our customers to see Santa in both a traditional way and with our socially distanced seating positioned in front of Santa,” said Arebalo.

Santa’s long white beard is fully visible this holiday season because unlike in 2020 he is not wearing a face mask. In accordance with local mandates, unvaccinated visitors ages 2 and older do need to wear masks, but those who are vaccinated can choose to forgo them.

Santa gives a thumbs-up, and he’s ready to hear holiday wishes at Westfarms, where visitors can sit with him, or on cubes set farther away. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

There is plenty of hand sanitizer available, and strict COVID cleaning protocols are in place, a Westfarms spokesperson said.

Santa’s Flight Academy at Westfarms, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Santa’s Express Lane reservations are strongly encouraged and may be purchased online in advance of visiting Westfarms via the website www.shopwestfarms.com/holidays. Information about hours of operation can also be found on the website.

Those who do not have reservations are still be able to visit Santa by waiting in line for the next available session.

Hosting Santa for the community is just one the initiatives taking place at Westfarms this holiday season. The #CommunityFirst program is back – an initiative the shopping center launched last year to show appreciation to the community and employees for their loyalty. Digital screens throughout the mall feature the employee chosen for the most recent spotlight.

The campaign gives donations to causes that are meaningful and important to Westfarms and tenant employees – spotlighting the people who live and work in the community and giving them a chance to have a greater impact on local nonprofits.

Donations of $1,000 are being given to each of six chosen charities. Some of the contributions made already this year include support for future construction, enhancements, and maintenance of the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail on behalf of Jenelle Miller of Newington, who works at Vans. Miller rides the trail each morning before work on her longboard, “helping her lean into the power of positive thinking for her day.”

Westfarms has also made a donation through #CommunityFirst to Johnny’s Jog, on behalf of Kriste Fernandez of West Hartford, acting assistant manager at Athleta, who works hard to help her clients gain confidence and feel good about themselves. Johnny;s Jog, a community organization started in 2011 to honor the short but powerful life of Johnny Moran, supports selected local charities that benefit children.

Also to show their appreciation for employees, Westfarms will be closed on Thanksgiving again this year to allow for the celebration of the holiday.

More information about the #CommunityFirst spotlights can be found on the Westfarms website.

The interactive elements of Santa’s Flight Academy at Westfarms have retired in 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The interactive elements of Santa’s Flight Academy at Westfarms have retired in 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Santa’s Flight Academy at Westfarms, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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