Many kids dream of flying to the North Pole, dropping in on Santa’s house and visiting the old man himself, surrounded by toys, cookies and other sweet treats.
For a group of Stettler kids, that dream came true over the weekend.
On Saturday, Dec. 20, they had the opportunity to visit the Stettler airport, fly to a reasonable facsimile of the North Pole and meet Santa and Mrs. Claus, who presented each of them with stockings and presents, as requested in the letters they’d written.
The experience was the brainchild of Allen Plant, owner and operator of Stettler’s Canadian Tire store, who partnered with other local businesses and organizations to make it a reality.
“Everybody was pretty excited about this,” said Plant, adding that he was pleased with the results and hopes the North Pole visit can become an annual event.
Twenty-one children were selected through the Heartland Youth Centre to take part in the experience. On Saturday afternoon, they were bussed from the Canadian Tire store via a charter bus to the Stettler airport, and then divided into three groups of seven.
One group at a time went up in a small airplane, piloted by John Friesen and Chelsey Hankirk of Integra Air and accompanied by Sarah Syvret of the Heartland Youth Centre, and landed back down at the airport, where the pilots’ lounge had been decorated in the style of Santa’s workshop.
Upon their arrival, each group of kids was welcomed into the workshop, where they sat down at the feet of Santa and Mrs. Claus. The jolly old elf himself read “A Visit from St. Nicholas” as the kids enjoyed baked goods and hot chocolate.
Then, one by one, the children visited with Santa, who presented each of them with packages from his bag, and with Mrs. Claus, who handed out their stockings.
The children had each written letters to Santa, and he fulfilled their requests, from dolls, board games and storybooks to remote control cars and CD players — even for a couple of children who forgot to send their letters in.
They eagerly unwrapped their presents — although they had to promise to keep the toys in their packaging until they got home — and then watched Christmas movies and chatted with Santa and his elves.
Santa handled all of the kids’ questions, responding to one girl about her skeptical brother, “If he don’t believe, then he don’t receive.”
He was also gentle in answering some of the more difficult requests, such as the boy who said he’d asked in his letter for a bathroom in his bedroom.
The old man commented on the popularity of the Disney movie Frozen and related merchandise, saying, “We had to build a whole new area at the North Pole for all the toys.”
Santa also made a request, asking the kids to leave an apple for him when he visits their house, as that’s what makes Rudolph the reindeer’s nose glow.
A handful of kids were dubious about the whole adventure, with a couple of them observing that certain volunteer elves looked familiar, but their doubts seemed to dissipate as the evening went on.
As one group departed, the next would arrive, bringing a steady stream of kids into Santa’s house over three hours.
“The greatest pleasure I got was seeing the faces of the kids,” Plant said after the last group of children departed, describing their reaction as “just electric.”
Among the businesses and organizations that partnered with Canadian Tire were Tim Hortons, Party Maxx, The Brick, Integra Air, Heartland Youth Centre and the Rotary Club of Stettler.