Sitting on Santa‘s lap and tugging his beard while posing for a professional photographer at the mall is a long-held annual family tradition. But the coronavirus pandemic means this year, children across the U.S. won’t get the chance to tell him what they want for Christmas.

Archival tech company Storyfile has come up with an A.I. alternative, creating a website where children can ask Santa questions online instead.

“The database, the Ask Santa database has about 180,200 questions so they can ask him quite a lot,” said Heather Smith, CEO of Storyfile. “The number one question so far is ‘Am I on the naughty or nice list?’, of course.”

Storyfile usually records interviews with people of note, from scientists and astronauts to civil rights icons and Holocaust survivors.

Interviewees sit in one place and answer questions on camera. The answers are then prompted by voice activation on their app to give an almost seamless interaction with the subject.

Staff at Storyfile tested the Santa Claus app on children before it launches on the website AskSanta.com.
“The kids so far have just been amazed,” said Smith. She added, “They really think he’s on FaceTime or something like that with them, which is the point, right? They’re adorable. I love them. I love all the reactions.”

Many children asked Santa about the coronavirus.

Cortney Lofton dresses up as Santa Claus at the Los Angeles shopping mall The Grove each year, and is featured in the interactive video. He said, “If a child has asked me ‘Santa, is there any chance that you might come down with coronavirus?’, I tell them, like anybody else, I do exactly what I’m supposed to. I wear my gloves, I wash my hands, I social distance, I wear my mask. I just reiterate the important things that they’re hearing regularly.”

The website, AskSanta.com is now live until New Years Eve. Although the app is free to access, they are asking visitors to donate to their charity partners, American Heart Association and Red Sled Santa Foundation.

If the website is successful, they hope Santa’s skills will be expanded next year, when he may be able to read out children’s le