A Weird but Wonderful Christmas!
by R G Pelley

When I was in Cyprus as a young Lieutenant with the UN in 1968,, I  found out, along with other Canadians, about a hospital near Kyrenia on the north coast where there was bunch of kids who had gotten done in during the fighting.  Homeless, wounded, problems of malnutrition, amputees, you name it , all the bad stuff kids should really never have to live through.  So,  thought  was given to organizing a visit from good ole Santa Claus carrying gifts and candy which would probably brighten up their lives.

A collect was made from members of  the Canadian Contingent  and some girls from British High Commission volunteered as Santa's helpers.  Somehow I got  myself volunteered as Santa Claus. But I figured if I was going to do Santa Claus, I had to come by air. So I got chummy with a couple  of Brit pilots who weren't worried about flying  outside the rules.  I got a Saint Nicolas suit sent  in from Germany and the show was ready to go.

But it was quite an experience, more than I had bargained for.  First of all, instead of letting me down from 25 ft , they figured that about 125 or so would be a bigger thrill  and yep, it sure was!  Especially  because I didn't  have a proper safety harness, just a strap tight underneath my arms. My main problem was to stay in the strap, carry a sack of presents and ring a school bell at the same time.  A secondary problem was that for the Santa look,  I had had to borrow a pair of rubber boots and they were at least a size too large.  So an additional worry was having one of the them fall off and cause other casualties!  All in all, it scared the s..tuffings  out of me!

But the worst part was that I had not thought of the big difference between a Santa Claus suit with the pants and the Saint Nicolas suit that looks like a dress!!   As I came down, the "dress " went up. And of course the friendly folks in the chopper, having a good grasp of physics, would  drop me down 5-6 feet, stop, and drop let me down again, with the dress flying up every time.  At the time I was wearing large floppy khaki army  shorts which were definitely not designed for giving a  public performance....as Santa's helpers laughingly pointed out when I got on the ground!

By the time I touched down in the  landing zone, I had it all figured out why they fired me me out at 125 ft instead of 25 !

But when I saw the looks on those kids' faces, I would have done it all again. These beat-up kids had grins on their faces as big as bananas.

When I cam to hall  where the kids where,   I did a little dance, mainly to keep my rubber boots from falling off,  and all the kids who could walk joined in.  Santa's helpers and the other soldiers who came along to help got the cue and all the kids in wheel chairs were being pushed along while the ones on crutches got carried.  Man,  I tell you, the Santa Claus parade in downtown Toronto just didn't even come close.

Looking at the smiles on the faces of these young kids who had seen so much war, hate, sickness and pain almost made me cry, .  Made it all worth it.  As I look at the picture of the kids at the hospital, I see one little girl in a wheel chair who reminds me a bit of my own daughter at that age... still can hear my heart thumping every time I look.

Nobody hates war more than a soldier at any time... at Christmas it is worse.  But that particular Christmas, I think the kids gave me a lot more than I gave them.

Webster note: click on thumbnail to see enlarged pic