- Associated Press - Thursday, December 22, 2016

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) - The children have lost their fathers or seen them come home bearing terrible wounds of war.

But for at least one day, Romania’s defense ministry and Santa Claus were able to bring fleeting smiles to the faces of all.

This month’s Christmas party at the grand Palace of the National Military Circle in Bucharest brought together the sons and daughters of Romanian soldiers who were slain or wounded while on peacekeeping missions overseas. The defense ministry says Romania has lost 28 soldiers, all but three of them while on duty in Afghanistan, and another 160 have been wounded.

The Dec. 13 gathering of about 50 children, accompanied by their mothers, relatives or other adult minders, involved the unwrapping of surprises and jovial chats involving Santa and a fairy princess.

Older children had their faces painted, while many babies and toddlers came dressed up as mini-Santas or as one of his elves.

Some kids fought make-believe gun battles with balloon toys, while others turned the large-scale packages left under the Christmas tree into carpet-racing playthings of their own.

It all proved too exciting for at least one boy who ended up snoozing soundly on that same carpet.

This selection of images from the day captures the fun, beauty and lingering sadness displayed by some of the young ones.

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