Trees are covered in lights at the Winter Wonderland Walk at Meadow Lakes Golf Club in Whitehorse on Nov. 24. The twinkle tour is in support of the Yukon Hospital Foundation. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Trees are covered in lights at the Winter Wonderland Walk at Meadow Lakes Golf Club in Whitehorse on Nov. 24. The twinkle tour is in support of the Yukon Hospital Foundation. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

A new take on holiday traditions

Winter Wonderland Walk, virtual Stories with Santa all part of 2020 festive events in Whitehorse

Yes Virginia, community traditions in December will go on — though they will be different.

As COVID-19 case numbers rise and new requirements — such as wearing a mask in public places — come into effect, community events that are annual traditions for many Yukoners are being hosted in new ways.

The Festival of Trees, an annual fundraiser for the Yukon Hospital Foundation, got underway with its Winter Wonderland Walk at the Meadow Lakes Golf Club on Nov. 26 and a gala event featuring Yukon performers will be delivered virtually on Dec. 12.

The City of Whitehorse is also set to begin its community celebrations on Dec. 1 with self-guided city lights tours and a virtual storytime with Santa and his elves, while the Northern Lights School of Dance annual Nutcracker performance will be a Yukon-inspired Nutcracker streamed online.

A Santa parade will happen on Dec. 5 this year, but rather than having crowds descend on Main Street for the event that culminates in the annual lighting of the city’s tree, the Winterval Santa Claus Parade of Lights will wind its way through Whitehorse neighbourhoods, meaning many residents can simply stand outside their doors — socially distanced from others — to take in the parade.

The annual tree lighting will happen as a virtual event on the same evening.

Yukon Hospital Foundation president Karen Forward said the Festival of Trees is the largest revenue source for the foundation in any given year.

For many, the festival’s events mark the start of the festive season. There’s Breakfast with Santa and Cookies with Santa events for the little ones and gala dinners for the older crowd. Tickets for the Seniors’ Soiree typically sell out in October.

It was clear this year would be different, but it was important to try to host the festival in some way, Forward said as she recalled the work that went into coming up with options that would help keep everyone safe and maybe bring a little cheer in what has been a difficult year. She said many are feeling the weariness of a global pandemic eight months in.

“I think we are all a little tired of this at this point,” she said.

The hospital foundation looked at ways to deliver a Festival of Trees to Yukoners safely, eventually coming up with the free gala that will be streamed online and broadcast on community TV Dec. 12 at 6 p.m., a window display at MacBride Museum and businesses sponsoring the trees that will be auctioned off online. At the same time, officials were approached by the Byrom and Adams family who wanted to have an event during the festival that would honour Travis Adams, who died earlier this year. He was a long-time supporter of the hospital foundation after having had a family member who received hospital care through the pediatrics unit.

Work got underway to plan an event that would meet COVID-19 requirements to keep everyone safe, honour Adams’ memory and bring some much-needed festive cheer to those of all ages, giving everyone something to look forward to.

The golf course seemed like the right space to host an outdoor event that would become the Winter Wonderland Walk.

“We needed something to give us a little sparkle,” Jennifer Byrom said, highlighting the support of the business community and volunteers who have put in 1,500 hours creating the light display that visitors can take in as they walk the one-kilometre loop through the golf course.

Keeping the Winter Wonderland Walk COVID-19 safe has meant running the event much like the golf course in the summer months with groups of up to eight from the same bubble booking times to start their walk.

“It was pretty magical,” Byrom said of the early view she had of the display.

While she suspects the jumping reindeer may be a highlight for many. She said her favourite is the more traditional multi-coloured lights featured on the trees.

“It is phenomenal what’s been created,” Forward said, speaking of the display.

Along with the light display, it’s anticipated there may be a special guest there for socially distanced photos.

Money raised from this year’s Festival of Trees, including the Winter Wonderland, will go to the pediatrics unit at Whitehorse General Hospital with a goal to eventually repurpose a space so that mothers can stay in the same room as their infants receiving care.

While tickets for the Winter Wonderland Walk event have sold out, the hospital foundation noted in a Facebook post that efforts are underway to add more dates beyond Dec. 11.

Meanwhile, it appears many Whitehorse residents are also getting into the festive spirit with light displays of their own after the City of Whitehorse put out a call for residents to decorate their homes with staff working on maps so residents can do their own tours to take in light displays.

The city’s Santa Land and City Lights Tour event every December draws thousands to festivities at Shipyards Park. Along with visiting Santa and taking in the activities there, many usually cram into city buses for a tour of the light displays residents have added to their homes around town.

Lindsay Agar, the city’s corporate events coordinator, said in a Nov. 25 interview that work began in September to look at how the city could deliver its traditional December events while also keeping everyone safe.

“That’s the forefront of our mind,” Agar said, noting that since March the city has found new takes on what were previously large social events for the community.

The annual senior’s tea, for example, became a tea for two where seniors were invited to pick up tea packages and have tea with a friend in their bubble.

While the city is unable to have its traditional city lights tour, Agar said work is underway to develop maps that will showcase some of the more festive homes for the season with a number of residents heeding the city’s call to decorate in time for the maps to be available Dec. 1.

Agar said in her own neighborhood of Takhini she’s noticed many houses with bright displays for the season.

“People are getting behind it,” she said.

Two maps are in the works for those who drive with another map set to be designed for those who use active transportation.

Recognizing this may be a challenging year for many youngsters who aren’t able to visit Santa at community events like they normally would, the city has also been at work to bring Santa into their homes virtually through its Stories with Santa event.

Videos of Santa and some local elves (including two who are part of the Music, Arts and Drama high school program) reading books from the Imagination Library, a program that delivers a free book each month to Yukon children up to age 5.

Agar said local children and their families can hear and follow along with some familiar stories or simply listen in the stories Santa and his elves deliver.

The videos will be available through the city website and its YouTube channel beginning Dec. 1.

Later in the month on Dec. 5, the Winterval Santa Claus Parade of Lights will make its way through town with updates on the precise parade route expected to be available through the event’s Facebook page.

“This years parade is going to look different to ensure the safety of our community,” it’s noted in one post about the parade.

“Mark you calendars, grab your hot coco and dress warm so you don’t miss this years parade.”

And while the Northern Lights School of Dance annual performance of the Nutcracker won’t be in front of a packed audience at the Yukon Arts Centre as it normally is, the dance school is getting set to stage a Yukon-inspired Nutcracker show with three options for those who want to take it in on Dec. 12 and 13, as well as Dec. 19.

Tickets are available to stream the production or those wanting to grab some local takeout and watch the show at home will be given a promotional code with purchases from participating restaurants to view the dance show.

Finally, there will be a small in-person performance on Dec. 19 at MacBride Museum that complies with COVID-19 restrictions for the families of the dancers performing. Each family will be able to get two tickets while those families with two dancers in the show will be able to get three.

As the festive season draws closer there may be a number of other events held in new ways for the 2020 season.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

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