Santa welcomes youngsters fighting for their lives, battling disorders or coping with the loss of a parent to his snowbound home
JUST in case you hadn’t noticed amid the last rush for presents, turkey and mince pies, it is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year.
But if the Christmas message has somehow been lost in a fog of credit card transactions and dashing through the crowds, then just a glance at the broad smiles and excited glow on the faces of some of the area’s most deserving youngsters will surely serve as a timely reminder.
For surrounded by mounds of crisp, fresh snow, beside an ice-covered lake and in sleighs pulled by huskies and – naturally – reindeer, the magic of Christmas was brought to life in the most moving and heart-warming way possible.
Youngsters recovering from life-threatening illnesses, others coping with the grief of losing a parent and some with conditions and disorders that defy medicine were treated to an enchanting day they will never forget, when Edinburgh-based charity FACE (Fight Against Cancer in Edinburgh) set off on its annual expedition to Santa’s Lapland home.
And once there, as snowflakes gently fell and by the light of hundreds of flickering lanterns, they put the misery of their past year aside to focus on just being kids again, while Santa wove a magical spell and made everything all right for a while.
Twenty youngsters from around central Scotland who have either undergone treatment at Edinburgh’s hospitals themselves or have close family affected by serious health issues, joined the flight from the city’s airport aided by a string of helpers, including charity volunteers and medical staff. They included one of Scotland’s cancer experts, Dr Trevor McGoldrick, a clinical lecturer in cancer therapeutics at Edinburgh University, who stepped in at the very last minute to join the trip.
Among the children was pretty five-year-old Shaelyn Bayliss, from Uphall, who, despite looking the picture of good health, has just half a kidney after cancer tore through her tiny frame.
She was finally given the all-clear to join the magical flight to the “north pole” after two years of gruelling treatment that saw her right kidney and half of her left removed.
Once there and wrapped up in a thermal snowsuits to stave off a relatively “mild” minus-15 degree chill, Shaelyn was able to forget the nightmare of battling cancer and instead snuggled up warm in the back of a sleigh to be pulled across the frozen landscape by Santa’s reindeer.
Of course, the highlight of the trip was the journey across an icy lake, along a torch lit forest path and up to the log cabin where the great man himself was waiting to give every child a special present and take last-minute requests for the big day.
Then, as their day in the winter wonderland drew to a close, there was just time for a quick snowball fight and some sledging.
The trip, says organiser John Macaulay, was emotionally charged in more ways than one. For amid all those smiles and the excitement there was the constant reminder that some children who had joined the fun in previous years did not go on to win their fight against life-threatening conditions.
And for others on the trip, there was the ever-present heartache of knowing that this Christmas morning, a vital presence in their young lives will not be there to watch as they rip open their gifts.
“It’s always an amazing, happy day but there are also some tears too,” says John, who has been involved in organising the charity’s 18 Lapland trips.
“There were two children in particular who had lost their dad this year. That was very hard.
“Their mum came along to support them and there were a few tears on the way.
“We know too that some of the youngsters we’ve brought on trips to Lapland in the past aren’t with us any longer,” he adds. “They are always in our thoughts at this time of year.”
John, a former police officer from Currie who organises the annual FACE Lapland trip and who is a regular voice on Radio Lollipop, says this year’s trip was not without its moments.
One girl who had been promised the chance to go was too ill to travel – a reminder of how fragile some of the youngsters are.
And then there was the moment when everyone arrived at the airport at 5.30am to be told there wasn’t a crew for their flight.
“There was a delay of a couple of hours,” he recalls. “Then a stand-in crew was found – some were Greek, a few were Dutch and there was even a French co-pilot.
“When the kids started to sing Jingle Bells the crew joined in with versions in their own language.
“They made it very special for the kids . . . and that’s what it’s all about.”
• Contact FACE at Edinburgh Cancer Centre, Western General Hospital, visit www.facescotland.org.uk, call 0131-553 1159 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.