Santa Claus just couldn’t wait until Christmas Eve to deliver presents to the village of Akiachak. On Saturday, he gave his reindeer the day off and enlisted the help of the Alaska National Guard’s C-130 to get him to the small Kuskokwim community at sun up.

It’s all part of the Operation Santa Claus program which has been spreading Christmas cheer to rural Alaska for six decades.

“It’s amazing to be able to share,” said Brig. Gen. Laurie Hummel, the adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard. “As much as we’ve given to the community we’ve gotten much more from them.”

Guardsmen elves unloaded the planes while he kids at the school eagerly awaited the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus by singing Jingle Bells.

The whole town turned out to get a picture with Papa Noel.

“It was the talk of the evening yesterday that Santa was coming,” Katie Charles said.

For many kids, it was their first time seeing Santa in person. Some smiled politely but many of the little ones burst into tears as they approached the man in the red suit.

The brief sadness was quelled by ice cream from Tastee Freez. The Salvation Army also handed out new toys to the kids.

Akiachak residents said Christmas shopping in the village isn’t easy. Many families make the 400-mile trip to Anchorage to stock up on presents around Permanent Fund Dividend time.

“Everything has to come to the village by plane or right now the river is frozen over so by ice road. The closest place is Bethel,” said Michael Drennen, a third-grade teacher at the elementary school. “There’s not a lot of places to shop so having all this brought in has been a fantastic thing.”

Akiachak is just one of a few stops the National Guard will make this holiday season. Santa visited Togiak in November. He’ll take an early Christmas trip to Akiak and Tuluksak on Dec. 14 and Grayling on Dec. 15.

KTVA 11’s Heather Hintze can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter