By the time Snow died in 1982, most of the lighthouses had been automated, but the Flying Santa program continues today. Jeremy D’Entremont, New England’s premiere lighthouse historian and vice president of the Friends of Flying Santa, says it is an appreciation for those who serve that continues to inspire the 82-year-old tradition. “The primary motivation of the flights is a show of appreciation for the Coast Guard families,” he says.
Since an act of Congress in 1939, the lighthouses have been under Coast Guard jurisdiction. The keepers were proud Coast Guard officers. Marla Rogers remembers how respectfully her father folded the flag at the end of each day. “Dad thought what he was doing was a privilege,” she says. At 71, Rogers still volunteers each weekend, leading tours of her old home, Owl’s Head Light. “I feel it’s a privilege . . . every time I walk up the 52 steps. We were raised to know how important the lighthouse work was.”
Today, Coast Guard officers stationed on Cape Cod and the Islands still care for several lighthouses serving as active aids to navigation, including Highland, Nauset, Chatham, Race Point, and Nobska Lights on Cape Cod, as well as Brant Point on Nantucket and West Chop on Martha’s Vineyard. This December, their families will scan the sky for a helicopter instead of a twin-engine Cessna—Granite Station Aviation and JBI Helicopters donate the helicopters, and pilot Evan Wile volunteers his skill. They’ll receive their gifts from Santa’s hand instead of chasing brown paper bundles dropped from a plane to the beach. Along with many others, whose parents serve in the Coast Guard, they will wait with excitement near their parents’ Coast Guard station.