For the past eighty-plus years, Santa has been making pre-Christmas stops at lighthouses along the coast of New England. The tradition started in 1929 with a Maine-based float plane pilot by the name of William Wincapaw. Wincapaw, and later his son, took it upon themselves to deliver Christmas presents to grateful coastal light keepers and their families. This act of joyous goodwill was later continued by Boston-based author Edward Rowe Snow who was the “Flying Santa” from the mid-1930s all the way up to 1981.
Snow wasn’t a pilot so his was a two-man operation with Snow dropping presents from the air while his aviator took him from one coastal lighthouse to the next. The gifts, which were donated by local business sponsors, included coffee, tea, Gillette razor blades, rubber balloons, chewing gum, dolls and pen and pencil sets, as well as copies of Edward Rowe Snow’s most recent books.
Wincapaw and Snow are long gone, but the spirit of Flying Santa continues today although Mr. Claus now relies on helicopter, versus fixed wing, transportation.
Of course nobody should confuse the Flying Santa with the real Santa Claus. I say this with confidence as I have first-hand knowledge of the true Santa.
As a young boy, I corresponded with Santa annually. I also knew Santa as a guest, one who was chronologically reliable and gracious enough to always clear his cookie plate.
I don’t remember being propped-up on Santa’s lap as a child. I did, however, have an in-person encounter with the legit Santa when I was young. It was a December evening. I believe it was a Friday night although I am not one hundred percent sure about that fact. What I do know is that the doorbell rang and we were greeted by Santa. He had come by to double-check my Christmas list. And I recall with great clarity that when Santa left I ran up to my room and looked out my window and that’s when I found out the truth about Santa, a fact I shared with everyone I knew – “Santa drives a black Mercury that looks just like Mr. Dowd’s!” (Mr. Dowd being our neighbor down the street who also drove a black four-door Mercury sedan.)
My interaction with Santa ebbed as a teenager and it became almost non-existent in my twenties, yet Santa began to re-emerge later in life.
When Sally and I married it was a mid-December wedding and our reception took place at an inn just outside of Boston. There was snow on the ground and the many kids attending were anxious for the Christmas morning that was to follow just weeks later. I’ll never forget their excitement when Santa walked into our wedding reception with a bag of small pre-Christmas presents. It was a lasting memory, one shared by everyone at the wedding…everyone except for my good friend Jim who inexplicably stepped away shortly before Santa appeared and returned only after the red suited man departed. Nobody questioned the spirit of Santa Claus that day.
I sometimes think, too, of one day in the car when the kids raised the question of Santa’s authenticity. Sally didn’t miss a beat when she told the kids, “It’s a matter of whether or not you believe in Santa. If you don’t believe, he won’t be real for you.” I can hear Laura, then seven – and two years older than her brother, shouting out, “I believe in you, Santa. I believe.”
I believe, too.
Despite the overblown commercialism, the extended span of the season, and the stress inflicted by expectations of all sorts, the spirit of Santa persists in many corners. I haven’t spotted him in years, but I am on the lookout for that black Mercury or his helicopter heading along the coast. And who knows, maybe the spirit of Santa will be especially close by this year.Share on Facebook