At Christmastime, some kids in the world go to bed with visions of sugarplums in their heads. Others go with sore bottoms.
It all really depends on where you’re from, what you believe and which customs you follow.
Every place is different.
But few are as different as Whitehorse.
If you’re part of an Irish family, you likely place candles in your windows on Christmas Eve and eat seed cake and pudding.
If you’re a Mexican kid, you’ll likely be taking a whack at a multi-coloured piñata this Christmas in an effort to feed your sweet tooth.
In Greece, people eat holiday cakes with coins in ’em.
In Japan, they scarf down Kentucky Fried Chicken in plain view of a Santa’ed up Colonel Saunders, which, for most of us, is a different look for Santa.
But, except for places like Italy, where Santa’s been bumped by La Befana, the witch who gives good kids presents and bad kids ashes, the jolly fat man changes his image to suit the locale.
In Australia he strips down to his shorts because of the heat.
In Brazil, he goes by the name Papai Noel and dawns a spiffy red silk suit with boots.
In the Netherlands he travels with a servant by the name of Black Pete.
In France, where he goes by the name of Pere Noel, he carries a basket and stuffs goodies in kids’ shoes.
Black Pete mustn’t parlez Francais because when Santa visits the French he travels with another guy, Pere Fouettard, a dude who spanks kids who have been naughty.
The list goes on as Santa has different faces, chooses different helpers, and, it would seem, has different ways of getting around depending on where he’s at.
In Halifax, Toronto or Vancouver, Santa and his helpers use a sleigh and slip down your chimney.
In Whitehorse, Santa has farmed out his duties to a guy who rides around in a glowing garbage truck named Rudolph and hands out giant candy canes.
That guy is Yukoner Wayne Henderson who began filling in for Santa 16 years ago, three years after he started working for the city.
“It started was when I was picking up garbage on the streets. I had little kids looking out their window — you know, the ones that weren’t old enough to go to school yet.
“They’d wave and say ‘hi’ and some would greet me at the garbage can just to watch the truck lift up and dump the cans, and to look at the compactor crush the garbage. They found it interesting.
“So, one day I walked into the manager’s office and asked, ‘what do you think if I put a Santa suit on when I’m picking up the garbage?’ He agreed.”
Things started off slow. A cheap Santa suit and a few strings of lights plugged into the garbage truck’s cigarette lighter, said Henderson.
And after a season or two, things “escalated” to something a littler grander.
The garbage route gave way to school, hospital and retirement home visits, and he got a better suit.
A few strings became more strings. One cigarette lighter led to three being installed in the truck to handle the load, and then a 5,000-watt portable generator took over as more lights were added.
“With my generator in there, I’ve got rope lights with 1,000 twinkle bulbs on it,” said Henderson.
Add the caribou horns, the sleigh bells and the PA system that’s been installed and Whitehorse’s garbage-Santa mobile is a going concern.
It gotten to be so much work that Santa Henderson has gotten himself some elves, and some corporate sponsors.
Helping Henderson gussy up the truck and keep everything in working order are city mechanics, utility workers, members of the Parks department and co-workers Rick Leigh and Tom Piket.
Add in Canadian Tire, which has been providing the lights, and the Real Canadian Superstore, which has been donating giant candy canes, and Henderson has got himself quite a goodwill roster.
“I certainly couldn’t do it on my own, and I’m grateful they’re able to help, because people seem to love it,” he says.
That love has been expressed in many ways over the years, said Henderson.
Often, people will run out of their homes with cameras to get a shot of Santa’s hip ride.
Sometimes they even invite him into their living rooms.
Occasionally, school kids have lined up around the block and extended their recess break to get their eyes on Santa and their hands on a candy cane.
And, one time, a Russian tourist followed Henderson for miles blinking his lights because his wife was urging him to get Santa to pull over.
“She had the little Russian coat on with the Russian hat, and she said, ‘I want a picture with Santa.’”
And she got one.
The garbage truck has become quite an attraction, kind of like a one-man Christmas parade.
It’s an attraction Henderson hopes to keep going for years to come.
So for now, France can keep its holiday spanker and Holland can have Black Pete, because Whitehorse has Santa driving a Yuletide garbage truck.