Lapland is a dream place to visit for many but it was made even more special when charity When You Wish Upon a Star took a plane of more than 70 children living with serious illnesses and their families on the trip of a lifetime to enjoy a day of snow, sleigh rides and, of course, Santa.
It’s the 30th anniversary of the charity, which grants wishes for sick children throughout the year, but the Lapland experience is truly magical – helping families make memories and enjoy special times.
For many, it’s the light in what has been a very dark year, with hospital trips, operations and treatment dominating the lives of the young people involved.
Not that you would know they had been through such ordeals during this 24 hours of sheer joy, fun and laughter.
From the moment the families arrive at Prestwick Airport in South Ayrshire, they are greeted by Disney princesses and superheroes.
There’s breakfast and singing and dancing and what immediately strikes me is just how happy everyone is. From airport staff to volunteers, everybody is dressed up as elves and the like to kickstart the experience in style.
Piped onto the plane, this was genuinely the most fun flight I have ever been on. The children were allowed to sing songs over the PA, there was a comedy elf on board and the air stewards and pilots built up the Santa excitement with fun announcements throughout. I wish every flight was like this!
Then it was off to Lapland itself. First stop is a winter wonderland, where the families have a free run of reindeer and husky sleigh rides, sledging, snow mobiles and more.
There are squeals of delight and happy, rosy-cheeked faces wherever you turn. I’ve never seen such happiness, even though it was -10C.
It was here I managed to chat to some of the families about what they’ve been going through and there are stories that will stay with me forever.
Many of the children are living with leukaemia, like four-year-old Cooper, who I had the pleasure of sitting next to on the plane.
His mum Cailean said she couldn’t put into words what this experience had meant to her and Cooper, after over a year of her little boy enduring gruelling treatment and facing at least another year ahead them.
“I think we all feel very emotional. Every one of us have just had such a tough time.”
Seven-year-old Cole was on the trip with his mum and doting papa, who was having just as much fun as the children. Cole’s mum told me that the “proud papa” goes everywhere with Cole since the youngster was diagnosed with cancer of the brain and spine.
Looking on at her little boy being pulled around the snow by papa in a sledge, Michelle said: “To see the smile on his face and to see him have that much energy, it’s just bursting out of him and it radiates from him when he gets to do things like this. It’s amazing to see him here after the last couple of years and it keeps us going.”
Cole, like all the children, then got to share a special moment and meet the man of the moment himself – Santa.
Having prepared a list at home and carried it safely in his rucksack to hand straight to the big man in red, Cole told Santa: “I would like Spybots, Lego and a tiny ukelele and a blue jumper.” My heart was gone. It was such a special moment.
As was so much of this day. It’s hard not to be overcome with emotion as you watch the sheer happiness of the whole experience unfold, knowing how much everyone there deserves it.
Indeed, one little girl summed it up by simply saying it was “the best day ever”.
Even for me working there, it will go down as one of the best and most moving 24 hours I have ever had.
I wish all the families on that trip the most merry of Christmases. Meeting them was a gift to me.
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