Gurdeep Pandher wasn’t expecting the Santas.
He’d heard about them before, but only in passing. So he was taken by surprise, while bhangra dancing at the Yukon Energy Christmas party on Dec. 3, when the Santas started to appear.
“Suddenly I saw one Santa entering through the door, then a second, then a third…,” he said.
Soon there were 60 Santa Clauses packed into the room at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre. One of them, a Santa who otherwise goes by the name of Mike Fancie, recalls that Pandher “took it like a champion.”
“I think it’s difficult under the best of circumstances to be surprised in the middle of a presentation,” he said. “When it’s 60 iterations of Saint Nicholas, it’s several magnitudes tougher.”
But in the face of 60 Santas, Pandher did what he does best. He danced bhangra, and the Santas danced with him — to “Gangnam Style,” as Fancie recalls.
“They weren’t doing like real bhangra moves, but they were trying and it was good,” Pandher said. “I think it was maybe the first time in the world where bhangra dancing (happened) with Santa Clauses.”
Whitehorse’s annual Santa crawl has become a fixture of the city’s holiday season. It started more than a decade ago with just a handful of Santas roaming the city, but it’s grown into a much-anticipated event over the years.
Some, like Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis, count on the Santas to liven up their office Christmas parties. He said they first interrupted the City of Whitehorse’s Christmas party about three years ago, in the middle of his speech to city staff.
“The door just sprung open and they just started coming in single-file and they just never ended,” he said. “And I hadn’t even heard of them before. I was just in total awe.”
The Santas dragged the mayor out onto the dance floor and got the whole room dancing. And every year since then, Curtis said, they’ve appeared “like clockwork.”
“I’m not much of a dancer, but I’ll tell you, when they come (there’s) not a whole lot of choice,” he said. “I’m going to have to definitely bust a move or I’m going to get in trouble.”
Fancie said that’s a sign of affection from the Santas.
“We truly value the work that people who work for the city do,” he said. “And the mayor always dances. Any day we can get the mayor of Whitehorse to dance with us is a good day.”
There is an air of mystery that shrouds the annual Santa crawl. Curtis said he doesn’t recognize any of the Santas behind their beards, even though some of them clearly know him. One time, he said, he offered to buy one of them a drink.
“And he says, ‘No, Dan, you’ve bought me enough beer in Dawson,’” Curtis said. “To this day, I have no idea who it was.”
Fancie wouldn’t say much about how the Santas decide which parties to crash. But he said it’s possible that a couple of people at each party might have an inkling of what to expect.
“Every year when kids across the world make their lists for Santa, they ask the elves to deliver it to the North Pole,” he said. “And so too do we have elves.”
Despite the secrecy, this year’s 60 Santas were a far cry from the Santa crawl’s humble beginnings.
Zoe Morrison, who began the tradition with her sister and a friend back in 2004, said she got the idea from a similar event she’d participated in back in Ontario. That first year, there were probably only about eight Santas, and they mostly stuck to the bars. Interrupting Christmas parties came later, she said, as the tradition snowballed into something larger.
“I think it’s become a nice kick-off to the Christmas season in Whitehorse,” she said. “The dance floor flooded with… Santas can really help get the dancing going.”
These days, Fancie said, the event is so popular that the dollar store sells out of Santa suits every year.
He’s also the first to admit that it’s kind of a bizarre tradition. But he thinks that’s what makes it special.
“During the holiday season, I think it’s fun to be a little weird and to always try to find new ways to celebrate and share the holidays,” he said. “I believe firmly in my heart that Whitehorse is the best of the weird cities.”
And if the Santas want to avoid incurring the wrath of Whitehorse’s mayor — well, they’d better be back next year.
“I’d be very, very disappointed if they didn’t crash our party,” Curtis said. “I’ll tell you that right now, okay?”
Contact Maura Forrest at firstname.lastname@example.org