The Flying Santa is a tradition that dates back to 1929, serving to express gratitude to lighthouse keepers, Coast Guard personnel, and their families through Yuletide visits by plane or helicopter. The tradition was started by Captain William Wincapaw, a pioneering Maine aviator. To show his appreciation for the people at the lighthouses in Midcoast Maine, he loaded up his seaplane with packages containing newspapers, magazines, and other gifts, and he dropped them at the lighthouses on Christmas Day.
The flights got such a positive reaction that Wincapaw expanded them to more of the Maine coast and the other New England states.
The popular maritime historian Edward Rowe Snow became involved in 1936, and he kept the tradition going through 1980. From 1981 to 1997, the flights were carried out by the Hull Lifesaving Museum in Massachusetts. A new nonprofit organization, Friends of Flying Santa, was created in 1997.
Today, Santa travels by helicopter in the weeks leading up to Christmas to stops from northern Maine to Long Island, New York, bringing holiday cheer to more than 1000 children of Coast Guard families.
This episode of Light Hearted, hosted by Jeremy D’Entremont and Cindy Johnson, looks back at 92 years of the Flying Santa using audio clips of Edward Rowe Snow and his wife and daughter, Brian Tague of Friends of Flying Santa, lighthouse keepers and family members, and more.
Jeremy D’Entremont is the author of more than 20 books and hundreds of articles on lighthouses and maritime history. He is the president and historian for the American Lighthouse Foundation and founder of Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses, and he has lectured and narrated cruises throughout the Northeast and in other regions. He is also the producer and host of the U.S. Lighthouse Society podcast, “Light Hearted.” He can be emailed at Jeremy@uslhs.org