My Santa adventures in the Yukon began when George Green needed a Santa for an Learning Disabilities Association of Yukon fundraiser at Hougen’s Department Store in Whitehorse. George asked me, as a white-bearded fellow, if I could help them out for a particular Friday night. I explained I was tied up that night but would be happy to help another night. George signed me on for every other night.
In 1998, Hougen’s hired me as their professional Santa. I continued welcoming children into the wonder of the season in their parade, Santa breakfasts and photo sittings.
Other locations later became Santa stops, such as Angellina’s Toys in Horwoods, and Tots and Toddlers in Porter Creek. Between craft fairs, the Teen Parent Centre, Air North, Porter Creek Secondary School’s Saint Nicholas Day celebration and a host of other events, the season is a very busy one.
Once, a grade schooler with an Old Crow jacket, tottering on the edge of belief, came up to me at the Santa cabin above the stairwell for Santa at Hougen’s. A fire had recently destroyed the school at Old Crow.
Using this incident as a conversation starter, I said, “I understand there has been a little trouble at your school lately.”
At this, he sat bolt upright with his mouth wide open. He sheepishly acknowledged the fact. Only later did I find out that he wasn’t from Old Crow at all but was a student from Whitehorse Elementary who had spent some time in the principal’s office recently. He left convinced that Santa really did know everything.
Two brothers put me to the test for several years. The first time I saw them, they spoke to me in French. My answers satisfied them. The next year, they asked a question in Spanish which was easier for me to reply to. The third year, they prepared a question in Dutch. Fortunately, their mother had forewarned me and I could quickly answer them. Mercifully, we did not need to continue the conversation: they now believed that Santa did indeed speak every language.
Often, children bring me things: a candy, the infamous list, a picture they drew or a treasure. A few years ago, a young girl gave me a shiny pebble. I marveled at it and told her that I would take it back with me to the North Pole and show it to the elves, who would be very impressed.
That alone would have been a fine end to the story, but being in a small town, I was acquainted with her parents. I put the pebble in the smallest envelope I could find and on a small piece of paper, I wrote of the pebble’s adventure. I gave the envelope to her parents, who put it into her Christmas stocking.
For several years, the Qwanlin Mall Santa sat on a raised platform several steps above the floor. One very young lady came and wanted to see Santa, but on her approach she stopped dead in her tracks. Nothing could get her to come nearer. If I came down, she retreated behind her mother’s legs. Her parents brought her for three successive Sundays until she could muster up the courage to take a candy cane from the man in red.
Parents, as we all know, really foster the magic of Christmas for their children. A reluctant child with a supportive parent will risk a visit to Santa. A baby can be brought up to Santa while facing the parent, then quickly handed over. If the baby remains focused on Mom or Dad, a quick photo can be snapped for a grandparent or a scrapbook.
Being Santa allows me to share in the wonder of the season, too. I rarely talk about toys or “the list” with the children. We often talk about the colours, lights, sounds, taste and festivities associated with this special time. What is their favourite cookie or decoration?
Many children know the story behind the angel or star they put on top of their tree. They also recognize at this special time that they can help get their house and special foods ready. I always remind them that I can’t come to their home until they are asleep so they have to listen to their parents and go straight to bed when asked. Sometimes it may seem to adults like a mini-morality play, but the kids instinctively get it.
Santa’s role is to epitomize the season; warmth, conviviality, a willingness to share, and a spirit open to wonder all have to be honestly conveyed. The kids know if you are not sincere.
Winter is a time to gather kids, and adults too, as a multi-generational community in keeping that spirit alive.
Whitehorse resident Michael Dougherty is a professional Santa-for-hire and all-around community-minded teacher and member of seven boards and committees.