Maine’s Flying Santa

Pemaquid Light (in summer)

 Lea Wait

According to “The Night Before Christmas,”  Santa arrives by sleigh.  I once lived in a suburban New Jersey town where he arrived by commuter train from Hoboken.  (Probably he’d stopped to do some shopping at Macy’s first.) 

But now I live on the coast of Maine, and here Santa arrives in many towns by boat.  Usually it’s a lobster boat, rigged up with lights and perhaps an elf or two, and when Santa pulls into the town wharf his sleigh (usually pulled by horses) is awaiting him, and the local high school bank leads him to the Village Green or town hall or whichever place in town is most likely as a Santa Destination. That’s just the way it is. 

Even in Maine, though, there is one special Santa who has his own, very special, mode of transportation. This is the 82nd year in which the Flying Santa has delivered gifts to lighthouse on the Maine coast.  And, of course, there’s a story behind Flying Santa.

Back in 1929 Captain William Wincapaw was an early pioneer in Maine aviation who was often asked to ferry injured or sick residents of Maine islands to hospitals on the mainland. He depended on lighthouse keepers,  since those lights were one of his primary forms of navigation in bad weather. He became friends with many of the isolated families whose jobs were often challenging, especially in winter.

On Christmas Day, 1929, he loaded his plane with packages of things hard come by for families at those remote stations: magazines, candy, coffee, gum, and small toys for the children. And he dropped those packages from his plane at lighthouses in the Rockland area.

Word spread about how welcome those packages were. The next year, and the next, the number of lighthouses he visited on Christmas grew. A tradition was born.

In the early days the packages were dropped from a fixed-wing aircraft. Today they’re delivered by helicopter. And although today  most lighthouses are automated, the tradition has continued, and Santa arrives on schedule, dressed appropriately, and children in nearby towns up and down the coast gather to greet him and receive a candy or two.  Pemaquid Light and Burnt Island Light, near where I live, are two of Santa’s annual destinations.

Today The Friends of Flying Santa organizes flights not just in Maine but to 45 Coast Guard destinations from Maine to New York. 

He may not use reindeer.  But to the families who look to the skies for Santa, a helicopter looks just as good.

Merry Christmas to all!  

For more information, see


4 Responses

  1. I lived in Saudi Arabia as a child, and Santa came on a camel, and later in a helicopter!

  2. What fun, Chris! My husband, Bob, grew up in Beirut and worked in Saudi Arabia for a while asan adult .. I’ll have to ask him if he ever saw Santa on a camel! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Sounds like a great tradition, Lea. I love the thought of the helicopter flying to a lighthouse. It might make a charming picture book for kids.

  4. I love your photos, Lea. They make me want to return to New England (but then, everything does!)

    Great Santa story!

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