How Are You Celebrating?

Ron and Paulette Campbell usually make personal appearances at holiday parades, corporate Christmas parties and other gatherings, but Santa and Mrs. Claus are scheduling Zoom visits this year.

Santa and Mrs. Claus

From November through January, Ron and Paulette Campbell usually make appearances at holiday parades, corporate Christmas parties and other gatherings. But this year will be a little quieter for Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Ron Campbell, who has portrayed St. Nick since 1965, explains that there are three things about Christmas that people value. The first is the music — “basic great songs, plus Bing Crosby” — the second is cherished traditions, and the third, especially important this year, is the opportunity to create new experiences.

“And since the children, throughout the United States, have been going to school by virtual classrooms with Zoom, we are making live Zoom visits,” he said.

The couple have scheduled a few small, socially distant home visits, mostly with long-standing clients, but they anticipate most of their bookings will be virtual.

“One of our first ones is in November for the town of Stem, N.C., where they are going to be hosting it for their families who will Zoom in. Santa will join, and then we will have some pre-information about the families, the children, Elf on the Shelf,” added Paulette Campbell. “So we can personalize it for the whole little town.”

Other creative ideas include a Santa Drive-By, which a local company arranged in lieu of a holiday party for its employees.

“Santa is going to be stationary, and there will be people with appointments, who will drive up in their cars,” she said. “So, it will be a very different way of visiting with Santa.”

“And everybody will have fun,” added the man himself.

For more information or to schedule a visit with Santa, visit

A Virtual ‘Messiah’

The Cary Community Choir’s annual performance of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ is one of Cary’s longest-running traditions. Since 1970, volunteer singers have lifted their voices to celebrate the season, and this year will be no different.

But instead of performing in person, the singers will come together as a virtual choir.

“Like everyone else, we were wondering what our situation would be in December,” said Pepper Choplin, choir director. “We kept putting off the decision, but as time wore on, we realized that it was not going to happen like it has 49 years before.”

“Physical health is one thing, but what will the soul of our people be like if there isn’t music, live music, and people carrying on these traditions?” asks Pepper Choplin, Cary Community Choir director.

“We did not want to jeopardize the health of choir and audience members by performing at a traditional venue,” said Candace Blackley, choir president.

In October, the singers and instrumentalists recorded their parts alone while watching a video of the sheet music. The recordings, of roughly 160 voices and 10 instruments, will be blended into one seamless performance. The concert will be available around Thanksgiving on the Cary Community Choir website and Facebook page.

“With 160-something people involved in the choir, there’s a lot of people that they’re going to be able to touch — their friends and family and social media and so on,” Choplin said.

“Most of them are not professional musicians, but we are engaging in this wonderful piece of music by Handel. It’s a monument of Western art, and just to engage with it and involve people in it is a very special thing.”

The concert will be available Nov. 17 at While there is no fee to access the concert, the nonprofit choir is requesting donations to offset production costs.

Holiday Open House

For 18 years, Mandy Becker has hosted holiday open houses for charity at Swagger, her gift and clothing boutique.

Held the first Thursday of November at the Cary store and the second Thursday at the Raleigh store, the annual events raise more than $5,000, mostly through ticket sales. Groups of 50 people at a time are allowed into the store, beginning when the store closes at 6 p.m.

“Which obviously is not working in this environment,” said Becker. “Too many people are in the store, because of course, the first 50 come in, and then some of those 50 are still in the store when the next 50 come in.”

Swagger owner Mandy Becker was determined not to cancel her annual open houses. “Yes, it’s going to be set up differently, but because it is a charity event, I still want to raise that $5,000 plus,” she says.

This year, instead of hosting the holiday open houses in the evening, they will be all-day events. The Cary open house will be Nov. 5, and the Raleigh open house will be Nov. 12.

“We decided to close the store on that day, except to people who bought tickets to the event,” Becker said. “We’ll have 20 customers at a time, instead of 50, to limit the number of people in the store at one time.”

The open house is Swagger’s largest charity event and benefits a different nonprofit every year. Proceeds this year will benefit A Place at the Table, the pay-what-you-can cafe in downtown Raleigh.

“One of the things that I love, being a small business owner in a small town, is that what we do matters,” Becker said. “The fact that the community supports us, I also want to, in return, support the community.”

For information about the Holiday Open House, visit Swagger’s Facebook page at

Power of Kwanzaa

Lester Thomas, one of the founders of the Ujima Group, has been involved in the Cary Kwanzaa Celebration since its inception. This would have been the event’s 26th year, and he was reluctant to cancel the event entirely.

Contributed photo

“Kwanzaa is supposed to be a time of in-gathering, with families coming together,” he said. “Because of the pandemic, people can’t move, especially our seniors. So, how can we make folks reflect on the various principles?”

The annual community celebration begins Dec. 26 and continues for seven days, until Jan. 1. Each day, a different principle is considered – unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

“What we were thinking about in the beginning, was to have seven people who represent the seven Kwanzaa principles, (explain) how they exemplify that through their work in the community,” said Thomas.

And when it was clear there would be no public gathering, this initial idea became a plan for a series of Zoom presentations. While each person would speak on their specific principle, all would also reflect on this year’s theme: The Restorative Power of Kwanzaa During Times of Uncertainty.

Last year was the 25th year of the Cary Kwanzaa Celebration. The event will go on this year, but it will be more focused on home and family, says organizer Lester Thomas. Contributed photo.

This year, Thomas says it seemed more vital than ever to come together, especially as so many were struggling in the wake of the pandemic.

“This is a chance for folks to really feel like their life is not destroyed by this coronavirus, and I think a lot of folks are really feeling down,” he said. “We want to restore people’s spirit.”

All seven meditations will be combined into one video, and Thomas is working with the Town of Cary to host the presentation online.


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