Christmas is around the corner, meaning the big man in red is starting to make his appearances.
Usually, that means ringing sleigh bells, blinking LED lights and cheering crowds, but for some people, all of that commotion can overload the senses.
That’s why Government House in Regina hosted its first-ever “Sensitive Santa” event this year. Government House manager Brie Hnetka said the sensory-friendly event is part of an effort to make the facility more inclusive.
“We’ve invited families who need a visit with Santa that is a little bit quieter, not so chaotic, less light and less sound,” said Hnetka, “and more time to get used to Santa and warm up to Santa and Mrs. Clause.”
Tracy Elliott brought her five-year-old son Ewan to see Santa. She said that while Ewan is the perfect age to embrace jolly old Saint Nick, most Christmas events have a bit too much going on for Ewan to handle.
“He struggles when there’s lots of other people around and all the noise and things like that,” said Elliott.
The Sensitive Santa meet and greets took place in a quiet, darkened room at Government House, free from the crowds you’ll typically find mingling around holiday processions. Elliott said she has two other children she’s been able to take to places like malls to meet Santa.
“We don’t have that with Ewan. We don’t get to go out and do the things other children do. So this means the world,” she commented. “It’s amazing. It makes you feel good as a parent.”
The event was organized with the help of the Saskatchewan Health Authority‘s (SHA) Autism Centre.
“So many different organizations have taken the initiative to accommodate a lot of people with intensive needs,” said SHA Autism Centre Mental Health Therapist Allison Ekdahl-Johnston. “This is just the start of it absolutely, but I think we’re gonna see more opportunities different types of venues, different types of events different types of holidays that might come up.”
Hnetka said the event accommodated 10 families this year, with each family getting about fifteen minutes with Santa. She said Government House is hoping to expand it into a full-day event next year.