Bulletin from the North Pole
Ivoryton’s Bill Niedbala is a member of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas. (Photo courtesy of Bill Niedbala )
Santa’s workshop is spruced up in time for pre-holiday virtual visits. (Photo courtesy of Bill Niedbala )
Everybody has had to adapt, even Santa Claus. Pandemic precautions mean there is no more sitting on Santa’s lap, whispering in his ear or giving him a goodbye hug when leaving.
Still, that doesn’t mean no Santa visits at all—just different Santa visits. Bill Niedbala of Ivoryton, who has been working closely with Santa Claus, has a solution: an electronic Santa visit on Zoom. Niedbala has been in contact with Mr. Claus who has agreed to the plan.
Niedbala isn’t a Santa-come-lately. He has been helping Santa out for some 15 years and belongs to Santa organizations on the state and regional levels as well as to a group that advertises itself as the largest Santa gathering of its kind in the world, the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas.
According to Niedbala, Santas who belong to professional groups began to think about how to cope with this very different Christmas over the summer. Initially, there was a problem that the organizations stepped in to help solve.
“A lot of the guys are older and they needed tech training,” Niedbala said.
He, however, had already done electronic Santa visits several years ago with a partner in Dublin, Ireland, but stopped because the time difference meant that talking to an Irish youngster in the evening in Dublin would interrupt into his work schedule in this country.
Niedbala has since retired but his job skills as a professional trainer, teaching sales reps and business managers how to give effective presentations, are directly applicable to channeling Santa on Zoom.
He—of course with Santa’s permission—has set up replica of Santa’s workshop in his basement as background for electronic visits. His four Santa suits are ready to go.
He has techniques for how to keep youngsters interested even at a distance. He reads books to them, talks about their pets and their family, plays the harmonica, and reveals some secrets about Santa’s workshop, including the fact that there are 888 elves who work there. There is a charge to visit Santa Billy on Zoom, depending on the length of the appointment; 15-minute visits start at $30.
Niedbala said at holiday time in pre-COVID days he had averaged 150 hours making appearances in the roly-poly red suit. In addition, he has always made some visits for charity, among them Ivoryton Illuminations and a group that organizes Santa visits for homebound children.
“Some of them are in wheelchairs; some can’t talk but they clap their hands, they wave. They know Santa is there,” he said.
Wherever he goes, Niedbala knows there is one unchanging rule for Santas: You can’t assure children will get what they ask for.
“I listen, I tell them I am happy to meet them, but you never promise,” he explained.
And Niedbala himself had a holiday wish.
“I want to see people get along. We don’t ever discuss politics. That’s a Santa mantra, but I want to see peace throughout the country and the world,” he said.
For more information about Bill Neidbala, visit www.santabilly.com.