For most there is just one more sleep to go – but for some of the most fragile and special children around, the wait for Santa is already over.
And on a crisp snowy afternoon at the top of the world, youngsters who have battled illness, grief and the nightmare of seemingly endless hospital visits, found their smile again.
They were whisked to frozen Enontekio in Lapland by Fight Against Cancer Edinburgh (FACE), which takes children who have endured a nightmare year of illness and difficulty on the trip of a lifetime to Santa’s frozen northern home.
There 20 children and teens whizzed across the frozen terrain on sledges pulled by skidoos and friendly huskies, met Rudolph’s reindeer friends, sledged down a snowy slope and braved the chill of a palace made from ice.
Then, as the light faded and the snowfields were lit by the flickering glow of hundreds of candles, youngsters – some carried from the confines of their wheelchairs into specially adapted sledges – took a thrilling journey to meet the man himself in his cosy log cabin.
Among them was Leith Primary School youngster Louis Hainsworth, 11, of Great Junction Street, who this time two years ago was in hospital battling acute myeloid leukaemia. He was joined by Braidburn Primary School pals Lucy Abeals, five, who has spina bifida and Eilidh Armstrong, six, who has Downs syndrome.
Also there was brave Emma Sutherland, 13, who wrote Eek My Mummy has Breast Cancer – a support book for young people like her – while going through her own health scare.
Emma described it as a day she’ll never forget.
“I will treasure that day in my memory bank forever,” she said. “The best bit was meeting Santa. And the nicest thing was that no-one mentioned cancer or illness, it was just about having fun.”
The children, some with challenging health needs, were accompanied by nurses and even top medics and consultants who took precious time out to ensure the youngsters have the trip of a lifetime.
Most of the children have undergone oncology treatment at the Western General Hospital or the Sick Kids, such as Olivia Bell, eight, from Kinross.
Others, like 14-year-old Daniella Forsyth of Calder Road, Sighthill, were there as a special treat after having had to face the sudden loss of her dad just three months ago.
Organiser John Macaulay, who has been running the trips for 20 years, says they are emotionally charged days of smiles and secret tears from the adults.
“It’s hard not to feel emotional when you think of what these children go through,” he says. “To see the smiles on their faces after what they’ve had to deal with is really special.”
And Enontekio’s ‘Nicholas Santa Claus’, who met the children, agrees: “Nothing compares with the joy and honour of meeting the wonderful people that make up FACE,” he said.
“When I am in their company I am a little man standing amongst giants.”
Robert Murray’s legacy
Cancer charity FACE has taken hundreds of deserving children on a special Santa trip to Lapland since the first one 20 years ago.
The idea came about after West Lothian teen Robert Murray discovered his cancer was incurable. Determined to enjoy what time he had left, the 14-year-old created a “bucket list” of wishes, which fundraisers set about making sure came true.
As Robert’s health failed, money left from fundraising was put towards sending children like him on a special Christmas trip to Lapland.
The trip has become a regular feature ever since, with hundreds of children – some of whose futures would be tragically cut short – treated to a flight to the frozen north.