Santa Claus is a busy guy. Not only does he travel the world on Christmas Eve, but throughout the entire holiday season he can be found making cameos in parades, in shopping malls and at office parties from Key West to Barrow. Last Sunday, however, he and Mrs. Claus traded in their reindeer for an Air Force C-130 on a quick trip to the Gwich'in Athabascan village of Venetie.
Venetie is a community of about 200 people, on the Chandalar River north of Fort Yukon. It's so far north that on Christmas Eve, when Santa will return, the sun won't even come over the horizon. Perhaps he's packing a GPS.
The community is largely built by hand. Surrounded by a thick spruce forest, many of the homes are log cabins, and freshly cut firewood fills many front yards, waiting to be stacked. On the day Santa came, the high temperature hovered around 20 below zero.
Word of Santa's visit must have come early. By the time he arrived, the entire village was gathered in the school gym, finishing a feast provided by the Alaska Air National Guard and Anchorage businesses. A Christmas tree and paper garlands decorated the school, and hand-painted signs welcomed Santa and Mrs. Claus to the community.
For the past 56 years, this collaboration, known as "Operation Santa," has brought hot food, gifts, books and Santa to villages across Alaska.
This year, in addition to Venetie, Santa and his elves will also visit the eastern Interior village of Northway, the community of Atmautluak in the Kuskokwim Delta, and Mekoryuk on the northern shore of Nunivak Island in the Bering Sea.