Last holiday season found us all unexpectedly scrambling to reinvent our family traditions and possibly even postponing our plans due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Maybe it was a church service, a gathering with family over a holiday meal, a flight to visit loved ones or even caroling with our neighbors—these things were now all considered a risky venture. But what about Santa Claus? In many families, taking the children on the annual visit to sit on Santa’s lap as he indulges them in their sweetest, holiday wishes is a tradition that has been carried throughout generations. Not to mention the most cherished part—the keepsake photo with Santa himself that will be treasured for years to come. So the question became, just how does a visit to Santa work now that we must stay outdoors and six feet apart?
In search of the answer to that question was local photographer Helen Ransom of Faces you Love Photography.
“When Covid happened and everything shut down I was really worried about my business,” Helen says. With the new social distancing guidelines, Helen knew that the photos with Santa that she traditionally did in her studio simply were not going to work this holiday season. So in June of last year she set out to find an outdoor venue that would be the perfect place for her photos with Santa. That's when she crossed paths with Emily Taylor of Gather at Red Cedar Gardens.
“Emily’s space was perfect,” Helen says, “magical like something straight out of a Hallmark movie.” While they toured the grounds, Emily shared her vision with Helen of Santa making s’mores around the fire, and the idea for ‘S’mores with Santa’ was born.
Beloved, longtime Santa Gary Lied was just the Santa for the job with more than 40 years of experience and having worked with Helen in the past. “I thought it was just a marvelous idea,” he shares.
Fall arrived and S’mores with Santa booked up quickly, proving to be a success with a waitlist of more than 40 families. Helen marveled at its popularity. “What was born out of necessity is now loved so much that we just have to continue this tradition,” she says.
There is nothing quite like the smell of evergreens mixed with campfire, the crisp, cool air and the magic of Santa Claus set against the backdrop of beautiful trees. The best part was that there were no tears from toddlers! Little ones could be close to Santa but not too close, as anyone with a toddler knows this is a delicate balance.
“The toddlers have a job to do in making the s’mores, so it just automatically means less tears,” Helen shares.
This year's S’mores with Santa has sold out just as quickly, even with the additional dates added.
In a time where many businesses are sadly forced to shut their doors, those that prove innovative and can pivot quickly are finding success and reward for their out-of-the-box thinking. Gary says that he has been a part of other reinvented Santa experiences as well like Channel 5’s Facebook Live Questions with Santa that was a huge hit with more than 12,000 participants, along with the Swope Park Rangers Summer with Santa where he donned Hawaiian attire and celebrated outdoors.
When asked how he feels about the new holiday tradition of swapping cookies for s’mores he says, “it has been a wonderful concept in a woodsy setting that makes everyone comfortable and relaxed and...well, there are s’mores!” Helen adds that she has seen Santa eat a considerable amount of s’mores throughout her sessions. When asked just how many s’mores he’s eaten, with a jolly laugh he replies, “Only the elves know that answer!”