Chocolate Santas in marzipan masks - a coronavirus Christmas in Hungary

Chocolate Santas wearing protective face masks are seen in the workshop of the Hungarian confectioner Laszlo Rimoczi, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Lajosmizse, Hungary, November 20, 2020. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

LAJOSMIZSE, Hungary (Reuters) - When confectioner Laszlo Rimoczi decided to put masks on his chocolate Santas in his small workshop in rural Hungary, he intended it as a light-hearted joke to raise people's spirits amid a worsening coronavirus pandemic.

But it turned out to be shrewd business move as orders surged online, and now he can hardly keep pace with demand.

"I think by the time Santa comes he will have to wear a mask because Santa has to show a good example to people," Rimoczi said, sitting in his workshop in the backyard of his village home in Lajosmizse, about 70 kilometres south of Budapest.

To keep up with orders, he has had to simplify the design and now produces about 100 Santas a day, using gluten-free Italian chocolate. He paints the hat red, and makes the masks from tiny white marzipan strips, adding the ribbons with icing.

Rimoczi has even had to change the design of his bigger chocolate Santas, which originally came without masks.

"They were wrapped, but we had to unwrap them and give them masks as our customers now only want masked Santas," he said.

His girlfriend helps with the wrapping.

Rimoczi's business - he also makes other chocolate treats and sells them in a small shop in his house - suffered losses as the pandemic hit in March.

While the masked Santas have been a boost, he doesn't expect it to last if vaccines help the world defeat the pandemic.

"I am sure next year I will sell only a fraction of these, as Santas will no longer have to wear a mask," he said with a smile.

(Writing by Krisztina Than; Editing by Mark Potter)

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