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Experimenting with a tradition

Yukon Beringia Centre hosts its annual Great Stocking Experiment
Christmas stockings decorated by children hang with care behind Yukon Beringia Centre exhibits in 2019. The centre’s stocking event is being done a bit differently this year. (Christopher Wheeler/Government of Yukon)

In keeping with tradition, a stocking will be hung near the mammoth exhibit with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon will be here.

The Yukon Beringia Centre is getting set for the holidays and will once again conduct its Great Stocking Experiment for the season, though as is the case for many 2020 traditions the experiment will be done a little differently this year.

The experiment asks the question: does Santa fill stockings in a museum like he does in homes?

To test the hypothesis in a typical year, Beringia Centre staff invites youngsters and their families to the museum for an afternoon of decorating stockings, watching a Christmas movie and getting into the Christmas spirit. The stockings are then hung at the centre. So far, Beringia staff have returned after Christmas to find the stockings filled, presumably by Santa Claus.

Staff at the centre recognize though it hasn’t been fully demonstrated that it is the bearded man in a red suit filling the stockings, so in 2019 cameras were used in the experiment to try and capture St. Nick in the act.

As Beringia staff highlighted on its stocking experiment event page: “However, when we checked the footage after Christmas, it was like … you could barely make out some bearded big-guy flash across the screen. I mean, is it Santa?”

And so the experiment continues, with this year’s attempt appropriately titled “the blurry footage redemption.”

This year staff had to figure out a way to conduct the experiment while also meeting all the regulations the COVID-19 pandemic has brought.

Rather than hosting a large gathering at the museum to decorate stockings and enjoy other festivities of the season, the museum is inviting families to drop by a table set up outside the museum on the weekend to pick up a stocking that comes with some craft pieces to decorate it at home. Those who did not get a stocking the weekend of Dec. 11 to 13 can pick one up the weekend of Dec. 19.

Thanks to COVID-19, participants are being asked to hang their stockings at home and submit pictures of their completed stocking masterpieces to the Yukon Beringia Centre’s Facebook page.

Along with putting out “some strategically placed milk and cookies”, staff at the centre will hang a single stocking inside the museum to conduct the experiment and, if that stocking is found to be filled after the holidays, a draw for the sock full of goodies will be held for all those who posted a photo of their decorated stocking.

Exactly what might be found in this year’s stocking, if filled, remains unknown, but in previous years chocolate, candy, puzzles, and small toy animals, among other treasures have all made it into the stockings at the museum.

“It varies a lot depending on the year,” Beringia’s program coordinator Lance Leenders said in a Dec. 15 interview, noting in a typical year between 60 and 90 stockings are decorated and left for Santa to fill.

Christmas stockings decorated and designed by children to be filled by Santa hang at the Yukon Beringia Centre in 2019. This year, the centre provided stockings for pick up, to be decorated and hung at home. (Christopher Wheeler/Government of Yukon)

It was in 2016 that the first Great Stocking Experiment was held at the museum after one of the centre’s guides suggested the seasonal experiment during a brain storming session for potential programs.

The experiment, Leenders noted, is a fun way to get kids into the centre, taking in some of the exhibits on display while also doing a festive activity and learning a little about the basics of a science experiment in testing the hypothesis of whether Santa fills stockings left at a museum.

Over the course of this year, COVID-19 has altered many things at the museum.

Science talks that would normally be held for a live audience inside the museum’s theatre have been and are continuing to be held virtually with staff finding creative ways to move major events like the Great Beringia Easter Egg Hunt online.

So when planning began for the Christmas season, staff was eager to find a way to make the Great Stocking Experiment continue in the age of COVID-19.

“Things have been more challenging for sure during the pandemic,” Christie Grekul, the centre’s executive director, said, crediting Leenders for coming up with a way to make the annual stocking experiment happen.

“It’s just very simple,” Leenders said of the 2020 edition of the experiment, noting the stockings come with a few crafty items for decorating at home.

During the Dec. 11 to 13 pickup, about 30 stockings were collected from the museum that participants will now decorate ahead of the holidays and post photos of for the draw.

Keshah Austin, the Beringia Centre’s communications specialist, said she was pleased to speak with one family picking up their stocking who said they were excited the tradition can continue in a new way through the pandemic.

A number of others also appeared pleased to pick up stockings and continue the tradition in their own homes.

Karen Routledge said she too is happy the museum has found a way for the experiment to happen in 2020.

Describing her eight-year-old daughter Mira as “one of Beringia’s biggest fans”, the Great Stocking Experiment was one of many Beringia events the family attended last year.

“They just had so many things to decorate with,” she said, also highlighting the staff’s skill in working with children who come to the numerous events hosted by the museum.

Mira enjoyed decorating her stocking last year and taking in the other festivities offered at the centre during the event, Routledge said, also noting her daughter’s happy surprise at just how full her stocking was when they came back after Christmas to find out if the experiment worked. Santa was very generous, she said.

There “was just so much” inside the stocking, she recalled, noting her daughter is excited to pick up her stocking and decorate it again this year.

“It’s a great program,” she said.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at

Stephanie Waddell

About the Author: Stephanie Waddell

I joined Black Press in 2019 as a reporter for the Yukon News, becoming editor in February 2023.
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