It may be below zero in Alaska, but this is one story that makes us feel warm within!
The children of Nuiqsut, Alaska, weren't sure if Christmas would happen at all this year. The community of only 460 people is located about 30 miles from the Arctic Ocean in northern Alaska. The settlement, which is primarily made up of Alaskan Inupiat, is a tight-knit Native community that has seen hard times lately. What with COVID-19 and a gas leak at a drilling site that necessitated evacuations there, the community could do with some holiday cheer. And who could be better for the job than Mr. and Mrs. Claus? The dynamic pair abandoned their traditional reindeer sleigh as part of the Operation Santa Claus initiative and boarded an Alaska Air National Guard cargo plane, reports Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Operation Santa Claus was created in 1956 when inhabitants of St. Mary's in Alaska could not afford to enjoy the holidays following a flood and a subsequent drought. A new yearly holiday tradition was established when the guard flew in donated gifts and supplies, giving hundreds of people the opportunity to celebrate Christmas with their families.
For the last 53 years, the Guard has worked with the Salvation Army to deliver hundreds of pounds of supplies and presents to three severely affected Alaskan settlements every year. In 2022, Nuiqsut was chosen for Santa's visit along with the nearby towns of Minto and Scammon Bay.
The kids were overjoyed to see Mr. and Mrs. Claus arrive in Nuiqsut and some even braved wind chills of about minus 25 degrees to welcome the National Guard jet as it touched down. Principal Lee Karasiewicz of the Trapper School kept an eye on the 160 students who were lucky enough to receive a pre-Christmas visit from the big man in red. "Some of them were out on the deck and they were jumping up and down, excited to see the plane coming in," Karasiewicz said of the students. "They knew right away by the size of the plane, who was on that plane."
Santa’s sleigh got some upgrades!— Department of Defense 🇺🇸 (@DeptofDefense) December 2, 2022
Pilots with the @AKNationalGuard prepare to land at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, to begin Operation Santa Claus. The yearly community relations and support program provides gifts to children in remote communities across the state. pic.twitter.com/iedeawG0IS
The Alaska National Guard dropped more than 1,400 pounds of gifts for the village while kids waited in line to sit on Santa's lap. Each child received a backpack filled with snacks, books, hygiene supplies, and a gift.
While some of the children held off from opening their backpacks right away, others were eager to rip into them and see what they contained. Children also enjoyed ice cream sundaes after the gift-giving and the Clauses joined uniformed guard members and many others to perform a traditional Alaska Native dance. "We can't go to all of our villages, but when we have a village celebrate this opportunity, it's a celebration that transfers through the tundra drums across our state," said the town's mayor, Rosemary Ahtuangaruak. "We all get to share in the joy."
Ahtuangarua added that the Santa event held was "a wonderful opportunity" to show children the guard in a different light—not always coming around only in times of trouble. "It's about bringing in the National Guard in a non-stressful event so the kids could see them doing good work that’s not during a scary event," she said. Despite the fact that it may be below zero in Alaska, this is one story that makes us feel warm within! It's wonderful to learn that Santa brought cheer to a part of the world that is sometimes forgotten.