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Lockdown dashed any hopes that Dan and Denise Smith might spend the festive season with their loved ones — but it didn’t nix the grandparents’ plan to “join” them around the holiday tree in the safest way possible.
The pair from Dallas — or at least the couple’s life-size cardboard cutout — is now enjoying a tipple at the Panama City, Fla., home of Dan’s son Jason, Jason’s wife Christy and their teens Kate and Maggie. The likenesses even include dog Billa, owned by the senior Smiths.
“It started out as a gag, but it’s actually really touching that the children have us ‘present’ at Christmas when we can’t be there in person during COVID-19,” said Denise, 59. She came up with the idea on Thanksgiving, a traditionally larger family gathering she shared this year just with Dan.
As the pandemic continues to force people to celebrate the holidays apart, a growing number of Americans are exchanging similar cardboard “stand-ins” in an effort to spread joy and ease the heartache.
Good Guys Signs, an online company offering “Life Sized Cheer-Ups” for $79 a pop, told The Post its orders had tripled this winter. Competitor BuildAHead.com, which manufactures 6-foot-tall cutouts for $95, said sales had nearly doubled.
“Due to the coronavirus, we’ve had a lot of parents ‘sending the kids’ to see grandma and grandpa for Christmas and the other way around,” said James Green, co-owner of BuildAHead. The trend is especially popular among military families.
Happy recipient Jason, a 46-year-old nurse anesthesiologist, was certainly delighted by the cutout of his relatives. The duo mysteriously moves to different locations around the house, much like the love-it-or-hate-it “Elf on the Shelf” doll. “It’s a fun reminder of my folks and how they’re always up for a celebratory drink,” said Jason. “Plus, our daughters think it’s hilarious.”
The potential for comedy helped Mary Hansen-Bell decide to dispatch her version of the cutouts to oldest daughter Autumn, son-in-law Nathan and their 3-year-old twins, Hazel and Mary Jo.
The 58-year-old funeral director, from Moses Lake, Wash., and her husband, Paul, 62, dressed as Santa’s elves to comfort and amuse their loved ones in Whitestown, Ind. Unable to repeat last year’s big family Christmas in the Midwest, the grandparents sent the goofy replicas of themselves instead.
“The girls couldn’t believe their eyes when Nana and Papa arrived through the mail,” said Autumn, a 37-year-old social worker. “They think they are pretty great and keep talking to them and giving them hugs. It’s really nice to have their presence in our home.”
Observed Mary: “We really miss everyone, particularly because of the coronavirus and the restrictions on travel. But it makes our Christmas better knowing that we have brought smiles to their faces.”
The same applies to Caroline Rodriguez, of Park City, Utah, who describes the cutout of her three adorable daughters as “a holiday hug” delivered to their “Grammy and Grampy” in California.
“We are extremely close to them and are very upset we can’t be together for Christmas,” said the 41-year-old transit planner. “But it’s not worth the risk.”
Caroline’s mom was overcome with emotion when she unwrapped the cardboard image of Cala, 10, and her 3-year-old sisters, Mila and Ellie, posing in their holiday pajamas. She immediately placed it in front of her decorated mantelpiece.
“Grammy sent us a photo of the cutout, which confused the twins at first,” said Caroline. “They thought they were actually sitting in her home by the fireplace. After I explained, one of them said: ‘I just wish we could be there for real.’ ”
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