World's Best Santa weaves Hong Kong magic
HONG KONG, X'mas, 2009 - Sporting a tickly beard and pillow-stuffed belly, Jimmy Chan is the most popular adult in a Hong Kong mall as children clamber onto his lap for a photo with the famous Santa Claus.
Chan, a 44-year-old magician, had never seen snow before last month but that didn't stop him beating rivals from around the globe to become the World's Best Santa in an annual competition in northern Sweden.
The event took place in sub-zero temperatures in the Swedish town of Gaellivare and included contests such as chimney-climbing, present-wrapping, porridge-eating, kick-sledding and reindeer-racing.
Chan, who took part in the event under the sponsorship of a Hong Kong shopping mall, lost the porridge-eating and reindeer-racing contests but was a clear winner overall.
"The beard was so puffy, it is too easy to spill the porridge onto it," said Chan, who impressed the judges with his magic tricks, acrobatics, and snowball-juggling along with his more traditional Santa skills.
Chan won the Hong Kong round of the Santa championship in 2007 and was to be the city's representative in Sweden last year, but the event was called off due to the economic downturn.
To suit up as Father Christmas, the slim Chan fills out his costume with large chunks of sponge.
"It's very comfy to lean on," he chuckles, rubbing his expanded waistline as he arrives at his workstation in the mall.
"I'm a very busy man this time of year. I am criss-crossing the city in my reindeer sleigh, going to three or four different malls a day, meeting with all the children in town."
Despite a demanding schedule, Chan says he maintains a jolly attitude by connecting with people and being a kid at heart.
"It is important to be happy because it rubs off on others," he said. "I love kids, even when they try to disassemble my costume. A little guy once tugged on my beard so hard, I thought it would fall off."
Beyond his Santa Claus duties, Chan spends his time juggling jobs as a magician, puppeteer, mascot and other festive characters for amusement parks, shopping malls and TV shows.
"I get the children into festive moods for holidays like Christmas, Easter, Halloween or Chinese New Year," he told AFP.
"Children in Hong Kong are under a lot of academic pressure, I want to teach them how to have fun."
When Chinese New year rolls around, Chan dresses up as Caishen, the Chinese "God of Wealth."
"Hong Kongers love me as God of Wealth, because they get to be blessed with good fortunes during the Chinese New Year," he said.
Despite his Christmas credentials, Chan's favourite holiday is Chinese New Year, when children receive red packets of money, or "Lai Sees."
"I didn't really celebrate Christmas as a kid," Chan said. "I came from a poor family, and making money was difficult for my parents. I like Chinese New Year the best because I could get lots of Lai Sees."
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