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December 14, 2013

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Santa Claus cashes in on Christmas fever

THAT fat little jolly old man with beard as white as snow is making merry — literally.

With malls and department stores decked up in all finery for the festive season, the mythical Santa Claus — bearded and dressed in white and red and carrying gifts for children — is much in demand.

But this time, instead of just giving away gifts they can expect to pocket a bit of income as well with shopping centers and hotels offering “cash deals” to lure the Santas to celebrate the western holiday.

Making the most of this demand are foreign students and expatriates in the city.

Dalel is a sophomore at Shanghai University of Finance and Economics. The Kazakh earned 4,500 yuan for nine day’s work, dressing up as a Santa Claus,  giving away candies and having his pictures taken with children at a Christmas Market in Bund.

With Christmas getting closer, he has more such part-time “work” lined up as the city’s commercial centers look for foreign faces for their promotions and other celebrations.

The Santas earn between 500 yuan (US$82.33) to 1,000 yuan per day, while “professional Santas” — actors in real life — earn 800 yuan to 1,000 yuan per hour.

The requirements are simple — a foreigner with a height over 1.7 meters and who can speak English or Chinese. Dalel had to work six hours, earning 500 yuan per day which included lunch and dinner. To perfect his role, he searched for videos online and tried to copy them.

Dalel said he was soon approached by another agency which wanted him to play Santa at some commercial activities at hotels. Some of his foreign friends in the college also picked up similar part-time assignments, making easy money.

Expensive Finn Santas

Apart from part-time and professional Santa Claus, there is also the “original Santa Claus.” There are currently 50 “original Santas” in the world — all natives of Finland’s Rovaniemi, the official home of Santa.

The “original Santa Claus” raised some eyebrows when the Finland Pavilion invited one of them during the 2010 World Expo. They hold certificates, guaranteeing their authenticity, and are expensive.

“It costs around 200,000 yuan to invite an original Santa for commercial activities,” said an event manager surnamed Wu who was in charge of a Christmas promotional event for a Shanghai company last year.

Wu got an original Santa Claus from Finland last year with her client spending around 200,000 yuan including flight tickets and accommodation.

“The Santa we invited last year had another two events to attend during his stay in Shanghai. To make sure the event was not effected by scheduling, we got two backup Santas.

“Given the costs, the client dropped the plans for ‘original Santa’ this year,” Wu said.

“I’ve heard of original Santa Claus, but they don’t fancy me that much,” said Zhang Danli, who works at the Mercedes-Benz Arena. Zhang said her company will organize a year-end party for their VIP customers and invite an American to deck up as Santa Claus, who will also double-up as an MC.

“Original Santa might be an attraction for Westerners for whom Christmas is the most important festival. But for us and for our Chinese customers, it doesn’t make much difference. Besides, they are too expensive,” Zhang said. Her company is paying 3,500 yuan for their “Santa” for his 90-minute performance.

The American, who identified himself as One Con, is a professional rapper and MC and has performed at promotional events around China before. But this is the first time he will don the robes of Santa.

“I must look, act, move and sound like Santa Claus. I will also speak and rap a little in Chinese,” he said. “It wasn’t until this year that people told me I would make a good Santa Claus.  I guess I’m getting fatter.

“I will be giving gift-wrapped to the VIP members if they’ve been good people this year. If they’ve been naughty, I’ll be serving them a cold dish of coal and fresh battle raps.”

Some companies have found an easy way out, getting their foreign staff to play Santa but there is no jingling in their pockets.


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