It’s tough to sit on Santa’s knee from a distance of two metres, but many of our seasonal traditions have required a pandemic-appropriate makeover this year. Santa won’t be holding any stocking-swaddled newborns for baby’s first Christmas portrait, or cajoling shy children to come a little closer to share a Christmas wish. This year, Santa is Zooming.

A real northern Santa has serious cachet in southern climes. Since geography is no longer a barrier for a shared holiday greeting, or a wish for joy and peace to fill our lives, Santa can come into your home. Already without much ado, families from Ottawa to Nanaimo and Vancouver to Kansas City have requested Zoom visits from a Yukon Santa. Sadly, more intimate interactions, including a twirl around the dance floor at the Elk’s Hall Christmas Senior’s Supper, or meeting families on Main Street during the Santa Parade will be missing.

Will I miss out this year on finding at least one story to add to my personal collection of encounters with kids? Two years ago, at the Air North family celebration at the Canada Games Centre, children gathered around a tree for a story and a few minutes of conversation. I stood up, as I often did, and described my northern costume; how mukluks replaced the black boots I wore when visiting a large city, or the black belt and big brass buckle were traded for a ceinture fléchée, the colourful sash of French-Canadiens and the Métis. Wolf mitts, of course, are necessary to keep my hands warm while holding the reins of the sleigh. Then, offhandedly, I mentioned that Mrs. Claus thought that I needed a new suit. This prompted me to ask the assembled kids if they thought I needed a new red outfit. All immediately shouted out “No!” A hand shot up as a little fellow, wise well beyond his years, had another thought. He chimed in, “Santa, I think Mrs. Claus was telling you something else. What Mrs. Claus was really saying was that she needed a new dress!”

Children have different needs as they develop. Infants just need a cuddle and a few soothing words. Pointing out the sights, sounds and smells of the season highlights the wonder of Christmas for toddlers. By three years of age, they are opening up to the magic of Yuletide. Flying reindeer and a jolly red-suited fellow giving toys to all good boys and girls around the world (we know that they are all good!) is completely believable. It is easy to talk to these children and tap into their fascination and openness to surprises abounding around them.

Around the age of eight, the wonder yields to questions. How is anything in the stories about Santa really possible? Natural skepticism surfaces. Still, some hold on desperately to their fondest Christmas dreams. My task is to ease their transition from the magic of Santa to the science of Santa. Small challenges help this. One question I pose is “How long would it take for Santa to visit all 10,000 homes in the Yukon if each visit took just one minute?” I help with the math. Can he possibly do that, even given our long northern night? It doesn’t take long for a fifth-grader to come up with some interesting solutions.

Teenagers only visit Santa in groups, or on a dare. Most are starting to make the transition to the next stage, discovering the real meaning of Christmas. Caring, sharing, hopes and dreams of a better, more peace-filled world take form in them. Young parents are brimming with these feelings when they hand a small baby over to Santa for a first photo. As we grow older the magic eventually returns. Then, as the years go on, we simply come to cherish the wonder of Christmas again.
Zooming can’t replace Santa actually holding an infant, but maybe he can help keep the wonder and magic of this season alive for our children in these COVID days, and for us too.

Thank you for bringing the magic of Christmas to life in Whitehorse