You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, and Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen. But do you recall… the most famous garbage truck of all?
Rudolph can step aside—in Whitehorse, it’s Garbage Truck Santa that everyone’s excited to see on the streets. Decked out in Christmas lights and a pair of antlers, the holiday garbage truck drives through town and visits different schools to bring joy—and candy canes—to children and adults alike.
With 29 years on the road, Garbage Truck Santa has become a city staple. Santa—or Wayne Henderson, as he’s known outside the red suit—has had all sorts join his holiday drives: from mayors and councilors to the Sourdough Rendezvous Festival’s Rendezvous Queen. There’s even a documentary on the tradition, which, in addition to widespread media attention and interactions with tourists from all over, is bringing global attention to Garbage Truck Santa.
But, while Henderson says the attention is nice, he isn’t it in for the fanfare. “For me to be doing this, in my heart, I’m just giving back, right? I enjoy doing it, I don’t do it for the PR,” he says.
It’s that desire to spread joy that started Garbage Truck Santa back in 1991. Henderson worked as a garbage man at the time and his route would bring him by a young boy’s house on Thursdays, who would watch Henderson work in awe. One year, during the holidays, Henderson asked if he could dress up as Santa so he could surprise the child. It was a hit.
From then on, Henderson continued to dress up while he worked his garbage route during the holidays. Eventually, someone suggested Henderson put up some lights and gave him a pair of moose antlers to strap on the front.
“I would actually go out and pick up garbage through my whole run that week and I’d have candy canes and stuff like that. And I’d have kids coming out, and because they’d be all out of school most of them would be home.”
But with so many children coming to greet Garbage Truck Santa, it became dangerous to work at the same time. Plus, it was difficult to complete his route in time as families kept inviting Santa inside for some cookies. So Henderson’s manager suggested he just drive around with a spare truck instead of picking up trash, and the tradition continued even when Henderson switched to a different job.
There have been a few times when Garbage Truck Santa’s fate became uncertain. In 2012, the city’s new trucks couldn’t operate with the decorations on, but Henderson was able to borrow a truck from Takhini Trailer Court. When the transmission blew on the borrowed truck a few years later, Henderson bought it for a dollar and—with the help of the community, individuals from Pelly Construction and Inland Kenworth, and the students at Yukon University—the truck was fixed so Garbage Truck Santa could ride again.
While Garbage Truck Santa was Henderson’s idea, he’s thankful the city for allowing him to make that idea a reality back in the early days. In fact, Henderson’s thankful to a lot the "elves" who helped bring Garbage Truck Santa to life, such as his friends, family, and people at work that would help him decorate the truck and spread the word.
When it comes to supplies, Henderson gets another helping hand from stores around Whitehorse. “I hand out about 3000 candy canes in four days, because [of trips to] the schools and everything,” Henderson says. “And I go to Save On [Foods], I go the Independent Groceries and Super Store, and they donate cases of them. Because for me to buy them myself, I’d be into $600, $800 dollars for the candy canes. But every year they get donated.”
Henderson returns the gesture, saying that if he gets any monetary donations he usually gives it to the Cancer Society or MS Society. One year, he bought a bunch of winter clothing—such as warm socks, gloves, hats, and the like—and visited the Salvation Army to give it to homeless.
The people of Whitehorse deserve their thanks as well, since the residents that have wholeheartedly embraced Garbage Truck Santa. It’s gotten to the point that some people still refer to Henderson as Santa Claus in the middle of summer. “Sometimes they’ll say to me, ‘it’s not Christmas until you see that Santa truck’,” Henderson says. The reaction has always been welcoming. “It truly amazes me how much the public, all the citizens of Whitehorse, adopted this and how much they want to see it.”
As Henderson gets older, people have begun to ask what will happen when he wants to stop. When the time comes, Henderson says his 27-year-old son will have no problem taking over. In fact, his son has already said he wants to pick up the tradition when the original Garbage Truck Santa retires. Last year, they even went on a ride along together.
“I could see him [doing this] because he’s got a good heart, right?” Henderson says. “And it takes a person with a good heart to do this and yeah, so I'm pretty sure it’ll keep going for a while.”