"Your tree! It looks wonderful," Santa Claus said, Zooming into our living room.

My two daughters were delighted to share their lists and chatter away with Mr. Claus — even introducing him to our cat — during a virtual visit set up through the Minnesota Streetcar Museum, which usually hosts annual Holly Trolley rides with the big guy in red.

At a time when my oldest sees her teacher and classmates only on Google Meet and we all feel video fatigue, I wasn't sure that connecting with Santa online would spark any real holiday magic.

In some ways, though, a virtual meeting — with a prepared Santa who already knew their names and deftly fielded my 4-year-old's impossible request for a "pet unicorn" — proved to be more fun and meaningful than the in-person visits of years past.

No lines, no crowds, no awkward lap poses or forced grins — just five whole minutes of undivided attention from Mr. C.

As far as pandemic pivots go, Zoom Santa is pretty great. And thank goodness, because it's a chance to keep a tradition alive and, more important, help true believers continue to believe at a time when so much has been canceled or postponed.

If your family has a virtual visit with Mr. Claus coming up, here are a few suggestions for making the most of it.

Get cozy

Put a twist on tradition and make the Santa experience as cozy as possible. One Minneapolis mom whose kids recently Zoomed with one of the Mall of America Santas decided that they should all wear their holiday pajamas and have hot chocolate for the occasion. At our house, Santa graciously told our cat "Ho, ho, ho" over Zoom and promised that he wouldn't forget him on Christmas Eve.

Avoid technical fails

While I was patting myself on the back for booking our Santa visit early, I managed to import the time into my Google calendar incorrectly. We logged on two hours early to the virtual waiting room only to have Santa type into the chat, "Your appointment isn't until 3."

At least we were early instead of late. And it gave the girls extra time to clean their room to secure a spot on the Nice List. Still, I'd recommend double checking your time and making sure that your chat feature is enabled.

Plan photo ops

No, the classic Santa photo isn't possible. Capturing this very 2020 moment is still important for many parents, so it's wise to think through the setup beforehand. Initially, I thought I just wanted to snap a photo of the girls in action and didn't want to bother with a screenshot showing them with Santa. Then I changed my mind at the last minute and had to scramble to remember how to take one with their iPad. If you want the screen to show everyone the same size, choose gallery instead of speaker view.

Give Santa details in advance

Many virtual visits include a chance to share information about your kids beforehand, making it feel like Santa magically already knows a lot about them.

One Madison, Wis., mom with kids "on the cusp of being nonbelievers" said the Santa she booked through TalktoSanta.com mentioned the specific chores they'd done around the house to be helpful.

And just like that, he managed to keep the magic around for at least one more year.

Erica Pearson • 612-673-4726