‘Tis the season to be illuminated

It's going to be a green Christmas. Or a "green" Christmas parade, at least. Erin Corbett, the parade's newest artistic director, doesn't really like parade floats.

It’s going to be a green Christmas.

Or a “green” Christmas parade, at least.

Erin Corbett, the parade’s newest artistic director, doesn’t really like parade floats.

“I just don’t think it’s good for anybody,” she said, describing the usual parade scene of kids walking through exhaust fumes that hang in the cold air behind the big trucks.

“And I think they’re boring. I’ve been to so many parades where I’m just sitting there and I’m not participating. I could be watching TV. Whereas if people can watch it and then join in when they feel like joining in, that’s far more exciting.

“There is a ‘wow’ factor to the floats, but I think humans can create that ‘wow’ factor as well.”

But floats won’t be entirely excluded.

They are welcome to park at LePage Park, where the parade will end, sparking a party.

The park also has electricity, meaning there will be no need for dirty generators.

And Corbett is experimenting with solar power in hopes of reducing the dependency on batteries.

But the parade’s eco-conscience isn’t the biggest change this year.

Since the Hougen’s brought up the first Santa in the 1950s, the man in red – and his mode of transportation – has always been the main attraction for the annual, winter event.

In 1960, a helicopter landed right on the corner of Main Street and Second Avenue to deliver the jolly old fella.

He’s rode in on a convertible, a four-wheeler, a snowmobile, a dog sled and the White Pass train, when it still rolled into Whitehorse.

But this year, ol’ Saint Nick isn’t the main event.

Light is.

For the first time, the parade will be held at night.

Things will kick off at dusk (4:30 p.m.) with the lighting of the tree at First Avenue and Main Street.

“The daytime doesn’t have the same magic,” said Corbett. “At nighttime, you can play with the light and that is when the magic comes out.”

Corbett is a bit of an expert with light.

The new artistic director of Yukon Educational Theatre is a live-projection artist, meaning she plays with light and the projection of images and colours, usually for musical acts, she said.

But Corbett won’t be featuring her art in the parade.

She still needs to find a way for her equipment to handle the cold.

And overall – complete with fire performers and glow-in-the-dark hula hoopers – handling the cold is the main objective of the whole event.

“It’s lighting up the night,” said Corbett. “It is about bringing warmth to the dark and also making allusions to the stars and aurora borealis.

“It’s warming up the night, welcoming the winter and creating this nice little mirror to Burning Away the Winter Blues. When you’ve got your shoulders up and you’re hesitant about winter, it’s going to make it a lot harder than if you welcome it.”

One of Corbett’s main inspirations is the Illuminaries Festival of Lanterns, held every fall at Trout Lake in Vancouver.

“I went as a 20-year-old and was just enchanted,” she said. “And that’s a goal of mine, to create all-ages events that are cool to little kids, to parents, but also the in-between.”

The idea is a free, accessible event for everyone to gather and celebrate the good aspects of winter.

Corbett is hoping people can bring their own lanterns, lights or glowy things and encourages everyone to enjoy the best of both worlds by jumping in and participating in the parade when they feel like it, as well as sitting on the sides to watch.

Once at the park, fire performers will take to the stage, the RootSellers will be spinning holiday re-mixes and two fire barrels will be set up with carolers and storytellers.

“People see it as just the Santa Parade,” said Corbett. “But after this year, people will see that we’re incorporating a lot more into it.”

And the goal isn’t to take away from the big guy with the white beard, but to add to it all, said Corbett

Plus, no matter how hard you try, you could never take the attention away from Father Christmas, said Mary-Jane Warshawski.

“He’s the guy,” the president of the Main Street Yukon Society said, comparing Saint Nick’s celebrity to that of Brangelina. “He’s the main man for all those little children. So he will never not be a part of it.

“But it is great that Winterval, and this whole effort, does appeal to the whole family, or the kids who don’t necessarily believe in Santa anymore. Or for all the adults that need to be cheered as the days get so short and so cold.”

The Main Street business owner has been involved in the parade since she worked for the Hougen’s in the 1990s.

She’s seen many changes to the winter tradition over the years, which has department store beginnings similar to those of the Macy’s Parade in New York City.

And Warshawski welcomes the changes this year.

“It’s so important for all of Main Street to be an expression of who and what we are,” she said. “It’s a representation of how we live. And that’s why bringing this light and warmth and energy to our Main Street is so important.”

Warshawski’s Main Street Yukon Society is currently working on a tourism-orientated study that hopes to produce a list of things to make Whitehorse’s Main Street more attractive.

The report is not expected until February, but it could include small suggestions like flower baskets to bigger ideas like hosting more large, cultural events, she said, adding the visitors the study focuses on can range from people from the communities to those from a different country, to people who live in a different Whitehorse neighbourhood.

And gathering all types of people to celebrate all types of winter magic is the main reason Corbett wanted to organize this year’s parade, she said.

She just hopes people will remember to bring their lanterns.

The parade starts at First Avenue and Main Street at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, November 26. It will march up Main Street, turn on Third Avenue and end at LePage Park. The festivities will continue there until about 7 p.m.

There is also a final lantern-making workshop being held tonight, Friday, November 25, at the Youth Lounge at the Canada Games Centre from 7 to 9 p.m. It’s for youth aged 10 to 15, is free – apart from the centre’s wristband cost – and there will be the chance to make two different types of lanterns. The lounge is open from 6 to 10 p.m.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com