The 75th year of the Bedford Community Santa Program will be like no other.
Like so many traditions throughout the Covid-19 world, the experience will be virtual.
Dave Dalrymple, who serves as spokesman, said the organizing committee is using pre-registration to survey participants and others to see which of two likely options they prefer to replace the pre-arranged in-home visits – with gifts — by Santa Claus that have defined the holiday for thousands of Bedford children over three generations.
One choice would be personalized conversations with Santa Claus on Zoom. The other would be pre-recorded generic messages from Santa. Both options could be executed if there is sufficient demand. In any case, Dalrymple said, “We don’t want to do anything that would jeopardize future believers.”
Besides social media, the survey will be made available to everyone on the Bedford Santa email list. Residents can also participate by going to www.bedfordsanta.com.
Dalrymple said the decision is expected during Thanksgiving week, which is when Bedford Santa usually sends its major mailing. “If the individual Zoom sessions look viable, we will explain how parents can reserve blocks of time,” he said.
People are already designing backgrounds for the Zoom call that would verify a message from the North Pole or Santa’s workshop, Dalrymple said. One reason for the prerecorded option could be to accommodate children who are “Zoomed out” from school and other aspects of their lives, he said.
“We are going to do a couple of trial runs to get it to what seems right,” he continued. “If we have an overdemand, we will recruit additional Santas,” most of whom are either of high school and college-age or grandfathers.
Dalrymple said organizers began realizing that things might have to be different about three months ago. They set a Nov. 1 deadline to decide.
He said a survey of volunteer Santas indicated that most would be happy to appear on Zoom for an hour or two, he said.
The origin of Bedford Community Santa is part of local mythology. The year was 1946, and a selectman, Clayton Morrill, led a volunteer effort to make sure that every local child had a holiday gift in the uncertainty of the post-war period.
Dalrymple still remembers visits by Santa Claus to his childhood home (“My dad had those famous 600-watt movie lights that would bind anybody”). When he was in third grade, in 1966, the younger Dalrymple began as a volunteer in third grade, and he hasn’t stopped since, serving as a driver from 1972 to 1976 and since then as a “logistics guy.”
The Department of Public Works has been a weather-related partner with the program for decades, Dalrymple related. In the ‘60s, he recalled, one Christmas eve in the ‘60s, DPW Superintendent Benny Wiggins arranged for 10 plows to precede Santas and their drivers through the hills off Page Road. More recently, they plowed the middle school lot to accommodate gift drops.
Dalrymple said there are about 400 residences on the Santas’ roster, compared to more than 1,000 in the 1970s. The number of gifts has declined from 3,5000 to about 2,000.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at email@example.com, or 781-983-1763
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