What has Santa Claus been up to during the Covid-19 pandemic?
“He’s been busy making PPE at the North Pole,” said ‘Santa’ Ron Archer from Ingersoll, who was wearing his Santa Claus gear Saturday at the Tillsonburg and Area Optimist Club Christmas Display in Tillsonburg.
“Santa, he’s the man of the hour,” said Optimist Club’s Mandi Byrnes. “And Olaf is huge, too.”
Saturday’s stationary Christmas display near Avondale Church included Santa’s sled and reindeer, Tillsonburg firefighters and dispatchers with their ladder truck, super heroes from Woodstock, Canada Post workers, Olaf, and music provided by Easy 101.3 Tillsonburg (CKOT). Visitors could drive by – or walk through – safely separated in a large parking lot.
“Merry Christmas guys,” Santa shouted out to visitors driving by. “Merry Christmas! Santa’s watching!”
Santa wanted to assure children he could still make deliveries on Christmas Eve, “and sneak around just like I normally do,” he added with a laugh. “And still eat the cookies.”
Dwayne and Serena Vandenbrink said their three-year-old grandson Christiaan Van Wijk was “pretty excited to see the parade (display).”
“He thought his great grandpa was going to be down here too, we always have a whole family event,” said Serena.
Asked what was his favourite display, Van Wijk said without hesitation, “Santa.”
“He knew who the super heroes were. He said in the car, ‘There’s Bumblebee… I didn’t know who it was,” said Serena.
Tillsonburg Fire and Rescue Services was represented by five firefighters, two dispatchers, and deputy chief Vanessa Devolin, who were collecting gift cards and cash donations for the Helping Hand Food Bank – a tradition they have maintained every year during the Optimist Santa Claus Parade.
“This is smaller (than the parade), but it’s still nice,” said Lynette Facey.
“Hopefully we can get back to the normal parade next year,” said firefighter Jadie Scaman. “It really brings the community together. You see people you haven’t seen in a long time.”
The Optimists didn’t have an official count of vehicles or pedestrians Saturday, but Byrnes estimated it was hundreds of both.
The parking lot leading vehicles up to the display had room for more than a hundred cars. At its busiest time, in the first half-hour, the cars filled two of the four loops – easily more than 30 to 40 cars in line, said Byrnes.
They were not overwhelmed by visitors however, as happened in London, but had a steady amount of traffic.
“We’re pretty proud,” said Byrnes. “It was so worth it. You know what, even if we only had 10 people come through it would have been worth it.
“This vehicle here, it’s their third or fourth time through. What’s so amazing is how many vehicles that are coming through with no kids. We also noticed that there are people that are driving through, then parking and walking through (on the other side of the display).”
Giving people a chance to walk – and see everything that people in vehicles would – was important to the Optimist Club.
“There are a lot of people in the community who don’t drive. That’s why we wanted it set up like this, and in a central downtown area. We wanted it to be a walking event as well, accommodating everyone.”
Byrnes said a Facebook live stream was recorded and posted on the Optimist page for people unable to attend Saturday.
“I’m happy with it,” said Optimist Amanda Cook. “For our first time doing something like this, we didn’t know so we prepared for a larger crowd. But having the smaller crowd is nicer because if people want to stop and appreciate it more, it gives them that opportunity. You’re not rushed through it, there’s plenty of time.”
Cook was particularly proud of Olaf.
“The kids love Olaf,” nodded Cook, assisting her son Mason Mueller with his Olaf costume in a tent next to the post office.
Mueller, who also wore at the costume at the 2019 Optimist Santa Claus Parade and the Optimist Touch-A-Truck in the summer, was finding the head gear to be a bit uncomfortable.
“It really is not (comfortable),” Mueller said, slipping the costume back on for another visit with the children.
“There were two little girls screaming at him for like 10 minutes,” Cook laughed. “He was dancing with them and they just loved it.”
Cook said the Tillsonburg and Area Optimist Club would be asking for feedback from the community on social media – what was good, what wasn’t, what people felt they could do more.
“For our first year, I think we’re all happy with it,” said Cook.