Forget candy canes, Santa's handing out hand sanitizer this year

It's a promise from Santa Claus, so it has to be good: The global swine flu pandemic won't stop him from delivering presents this year.

"I swear that Christmas will not be canceled this year," Father Christmas told Finnish national broadcaster YLE, explaining that many children were worried he would catch swine flu, according to an ATP story.

And in what may not look like the kindest move after a child has left his lap, Santa Claus is pulling out the hand sanitizer and tissues more than ever this holiday season in an effort to ward off swine flu and the seasonal flu.

In yet another sign of how lives are changing in the fight against H1N1, mall Santas are being asked this year to get vaccinated, use hand sanitizer often, wash their beards regularly and bleach and wash their white gloves nightly, according to a story in the Vancouver Sun.

High-contact areas such as railings and the arms of Santa's chair are being cleaned at least four times a day at the Santa display at a mall in Edmonton, Canada.

With research suggesting that obesity could be a risk factor for severe swine flu, and with about a third of the nation's Santas at least 100 pounds overweight, the president of a national volunteer Santa group has said Santas should be given priority for the swine flu vaccine.

In Edmonton, the mall's general manager said that parents of sick children should bring their kids back by Dec. 23 when they feel better. The mall Santa, however, said he'd never ask parents of kids showing flu symptoms to come back another day.

"That's the parents' responsibility. Our job is to produce magic," he told the Vancouver Sun.

Santas with flu symptoms are encouraged to stay home. And the good news of the recession is that high unemployment has left at least Edmonton's malls with no shortage of Santas this year.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area who can be reached at
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