For over 25 years, Shaw has brought their community together for the holidays, hosting thousands of kids and their families for an annual Christmas party. Cities across Canada each hosted their own festivities, with the sheer number of attendees in Calgary alone seeing the event outgrow Spruce Meadows and upsize to Winsport – the Canada Olympic Park. Guests looked forward to live entertainment, ice skating, wrapped and ribboned gifts, and a recurring favourite figure: the jolly man in red himself.
When the lockdown turned many events virtual, or cancelled altogether, there was no shutting down something so special. We brought our OneWest and Shaw teams together to invent an in-home experience that would bring the same holiday joy these families looked forward to straight into their living rooms. With a gold mine of collaborators, a few supply chain nightmares and a sprinkle of holiday magic, we brought the event to life in a brand-new way.
To achieve an event during lockdown that could be contact-free, yet offer the holiday touches each child was eagerly anticipating - gifts, entertainment, and priceless memories - we created a blend of online, in-person and video experiences that seamlessly flowed together.
We began by inventing a custom, interactive app to bring the familiar highlights of the event into the palm of your hand. Using the app, kids could pre-record their wish lists for Santa and receive personalized replies, and try their hand at festive games. A favourite feature virtually projected the loveable local Santa right next to you for a photo together, keeping alive a tradition these children had grown up with.
With invaluable advice from our trusted neighbourhood gift expert, Calgary’s Castle Toys, we then sourced the perfect gifts for all ages. It’s not just the little ones who get presents, each family receives a package filled with holiday games, advent calendars, festive treats and a special gift to enjoy together.
When it comes to the grand finale — a 30-minute video special — Shaw pulls out all the stops. Sparing no thrills, the production comprises fantastic performances and breathtaking set designs, rounded out by top-level scripting and post-production.
For our third annual video special this past December, we leaned all-in on the visual theme, “Cirque De La Nuit”; Circus of the Night. The awe and excitement of sword-swallowers, acrobatics and fire brought a whimsical twist, lighting up children's imaginations. Twirling umbrellas provided a topsy-turvy backdrop for our sky-high ribbon dancer, while a glittering marquee illuminated the stage for fiery performances. Santa’s Workshop was cozied up with towers of toys, nostalgic train sets, and heavy drapes to keep out the North Pole chill.
Designing for video, rather than a room filled with guests, was an experiment in creativity and execution. Production Canada made sure the logistics stayed in order, so we could focus on bringing the big top to the small screen. Using the fantastic studio at MTM Equipment Rentals Ltd., we layered dramatic circus-themed set pieces to create depth on the stage from every angle. With the incredible Le Cirque de la Nuit performers and the camera operators constantly in motion, each decor element was designed to allow rearranging in a pinch. Our brilliant partner Orange Frog Productions exacted the dramatic lighting and ensured components could be easily raised and lowered with kinetic cables to nimbly move with the cameras. Every aspect of our design prowess was put to the test in creating a stage that would be interacted with through a lens.
The result was a masterpiece of witty, exciting and nostalgic entertainment for the whole family.
Among the unique hurdles of planning a large-scale video shoot during a global pandemic, we had a lightbulb moment. With a pre-recorded video special as the key event, and no need to gather people into a specific building, or even city, this new hybrid experience was easily shareable. The gift packages for each family could be replicated and shipped, and the video could be shared to thousands of households with a click. Families in cities all across Canada were able to join in the same holiday celebration for the first time in the event's history.
The hybrid gift pick-up plus in-home television experience that started as a solution to keeping kids' spirits high during a couple of house-bound holidays, quickly became a family favourite. For Shaw, the ability to create and share a holiday experience with families all across the country has proven invaluable. We now look forward to this treasured December tradition that will live on beyond the pandemic, bringing joy for years to come.