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Starving to embrace joy

As a child, you probably wondered at least once how Santa Claus could deliver Christmas cheer around the world in a single night?

Calgary-based airliner WestJet has proven it can be done — well, sort of.

The airline recently embarked on an amazing project that eventually became known as a “Christmas Miracle,” touching the hearts and souls of more than 20 million people around the world who have viewed the story over YouTube.

The company surprised more than 250 airline passengers landing at Calgary International Airport from Toronto and Hamilton with Christmas gifts — exactly what they asked for — with their names attached to the presents.

One passenger received the new socks and underwear he asked for; it was a humble request. Another received a big screen TV. And another received his “dream car” — or a toy version. And the youthful passengers also received their Yule wishes.

What became evident in the WestJet project is that millions of people around the world are starving to embrace joy. They’ve grown weary of a world full of horrific events — misery, pain and deaths, and the seemingly endless strife.

This time of year can bring some respite from all that weighs us down and, hopefully, we can count our blessings.

The yule season should remind us of the importance of generosity, precious smiles, family, fellowship and goodness in general.

We should also reflect on those less fortunate among us, and reach out to them.

Certainly there are those who are cynical of good will and despise the spirit of Christmas.

WestJet’s Christmas Miracle, for example, has been chastised by some as a public relations stunt to attract more business. No doubt it has a tremendous upside for the airline’s profile, but how can it ever be bad for a company to do nice things for people?

Countless Central Alberta businesses launch drives for the food bank, soup kitchens and families in dire straights.

The best of our corporate community always reach out to the wider community. The sincerity of giving is reflected in the enthusiasm and smiles of employees and business owners.

The WestJet story began on Nov. 21 when more than 250 passengers boarded flights bound for Calgary at Toronto and Hamilton airports. With 19 hidden cameras at all three airports, WestJet recorded it all. Passengers in Hamilton and Toronto cued in their tickets and then walked past a Santa on a screen who called them by name (the information obtained from the tickets) and asked what they wanted for Christmas. The passengers obliged.

When the two flights lifted off the runways, WestJet in Calgary was given the wish list, and more than 150 volunteer staff scrambled. They had four hours to do the shopping in Calgary, wrapping and labelling the gifts, then delivering them to the airport.

Upon arrival, passengers gathered around the baggage carousal for their luggage. Instead, presents came down first with the names of the passengers attached. They were in awe — they received exactly what they told Santa they wanted in Hamilton and Toronto — even the passenger who asked for new socks and underwear.

The hidden cameras recorded smiles, tears, joy and shrieks of amazement by the children.

WestJet pieced together the video and released it last week on YouTube. It went viral. As of Friday, more than 20 million viewers — climbing at a rate of two to three million a day — from around the world expressed delight over the gesture. Many over the Internet confessed to weeping with joy. Major TV news outlets in Canada and the U.S. quickly latched onto the story.

“We had absolutely no idea it would go as wide as it did,” said an astonished Robert Palmer, manager of public relations for WestJet.

It just goes to show you that it is never bad to bring joy to people. Just ask the millions of people who have clicked on the video.

Rick Zemanek is a former Advocate editor.



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