Meeting the fat man in the red suit at your local shopping centre to tell him what you want for Christmas is one of the time-honoured Christmas traditions for Australian kids.
But the music, the lights and the queues can often make some children feel overwhelmed and reluctant to take part.
So this year, all Westfield shopping centres in Australia and New Zealand are offering children with sensory processing challenges the opportunity to have their photo taken privately with Santa, away from all the sights and sounds.
Called Sensitive Santa, the photo sessions give kids with sensory processing challenges, anxiety or disabilities time alone with Father Christmas in one-on-one sessions both before and after opening hours, extending the magical experience of Santa to more families.
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The sessions will take place with subdued lighting, no crowds, and no background music, providing calm and comfortable photography sessions.
With a booked time slot and no need to wait in the queue, families can take their time with Santa and helpers are on hand to accommodate any special requests as best they can.
Sensitive Santa was initially trialled at Westfield Woden in 2014 in response to a customer request, which customer experience director Phil McAveety said received overwhelmingly positive response from the community.
“We want to ensure special festive moments such as meeting Santa are accessible to all our customers, so we’re pleased we can announce Sensitive Santa photography will be available at all Westfield Centres nationally this year,” Mr McAveety said.
To raise awareness of the Sensitive Santa experience, Westfield filmed a short film featuring Amanda and her five-year-old daughter Claire who is on the autism spectrum. The little girl from NSW South Coast had never had the chance to meet Santa until now.
“The idea of taking Claire to a shopping centre for a Santa photo is really daunting to me because she might get really overwhelmed,” Amanda shared. “So the idea of it being outside usual shopping hours when the crowds are gone really excited me.
“Watching Claire and seeing her hands go up when she met Santa – that is going to stay with me all year.”