Thank you to Sr Myra Dickinson for this lovely story which tells of how toys really did fall from the sky. It took place during the time that Myra and Br David served in Labrador.
After the second world war the American forces maintained a military presence in Canada in various Labrador locations. In the town of Goose Bay and the village of Hopedale there remained a contingent of American soldiers on bases with radar and an early warning system known as the DEW line; DEW stands for Distant Early Warning system and was to detect any attack.
In the month of October in the late 1960s, at the request of the base commander, David and I were asked to compile a list of every child in the community with their details, to be sent to Goose Bay. With money provided by the service men an appropriate gift and other treats were bought and wrapped for each child in the village of Hopedale. This project was known as “The Christmas Drop.”
About a week before Christmas, on a pre-arranged day, most of the village, whatever they were doing, would head down to the frozen harbour and gather out on the ice. With frozen eyebrows and chilled fingers they stamped their feet and waited. Imagine the cold crisp air, the excitement and the anticipation as in the distance the whirr of a mighty engine could be heard. Santa was calling!
This huge American carrier plane circled the village; then on returning released a red flare to mark on the ice where the drop would take place. With all eyes mesmerised the plane again swung round and the rear doors opened and 3 massive baskets attached to parachutes floated down and landed on the frozen sea to the delight and amazement of the children. Santa had delivered.
The baskets contained all the gifts to be given out in church on Christmas Eve. Even the parachute silk was put to use by the ladies to make linings for the inside of the jackets they made. The baskets were loaded on to sleds and pulled by snow mobiles over the ice to be organised into groups and stored in the mission house until needed.
And now to Christmas Eve. I think I can safely say that Hopedale was probably the only coastal village where the children not only presented a nativity play but also very ably presented “A Christmas Carol” with their minister, David, playing Scrooge. I made the costumes and avoided the stage! No Oscars but a memorable night nevertheless.
The church had TWO massive real Christmas trees specially chosen for size and shape. It was decorated with real candles inserted in little shell shaped metal holders clipped to the branches. With candles glowing, the lights off, the trays of christingles shone out as the chapel servants distributed them to eager children.
The Christingles were not oranges but rosy red apples. Having received their Christingles the children then raised them high and sang:
Sorutsit Kaititse nutarasungmut
Atatab panetub Kailauktanganut…..Oh,come little children,Oh come one and all,To Bethlehem’s stable ,in Bethlehem’s stall.
Following the Christingle, Santa’s arrival was impressive and dramatic. No tinkle of rooftop bells but in the hush of a full church came the resounding THUD THUD THUD of a heavy staff on the floorboards as Santa walked down the centre of the church. Like Gandalf, the White Santa took his seat at the front and David called each child by name to receive their gift.
Then it was time to return home beneath the dancing, ever moving northern lights, changing shape and spreading their rainbow colours across the starlit frosty sky. Truly a Christmas to remember.
A lovely story – thank you Myra.
This story encouraged me to turn to Google for some pictures of Hopedale. In fact, I found a Moravian Church website. Below is a link to a Newfoundland and Labrador Moravian Church blog. It includes a brief description of a locally made Putz (if you recall from a previous article this is a traditional name for the nativity scene).
Five different kinds of moss collected, Labradorite, river sand & rocks (before the freeze), driftwood – was a congregation experience. Then, working around a very talented model train landscape artist’s varied job hours, the landscape got built, the electricians created spotlights, the northern lights were airbrushed, penlights on, frankinsence added, and the figurines were delicately put in place. We stood there all amazed. It is a beautiful, and quietly tells the story of Emmanuel, “God with Us.”
Here is a link to a young choir singing the carol that Myra tells of:
Let me close by wishing you all a very happy Christmas, followed by a healthy 2021 when we can once more come together, celebrate and be jolly.