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Santas sprout up to spread spirit of season
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 A boy revels in artificial snow at a shopping mall in Xiamen, Fujian province, as people in the coastal city celebrated Christmas Eve yesterday. [China Daily]

Santa won't find many chimneys in Beijing but he still finds a way to reach the kids.

Now that Christmas gift-giving is widespread in the country, there are Santas galore. There is no estimate of their number but they are typically found in shopping malls, hotels or on the streets, giving gifts to children or posing for pictures.

And these Santas say "Shengdan kuaile" (Merry Christmas!).

Wang Guangming is a first-time Santa and slipped into the role effortlessly. "I was picked to be Santa because I am overweight," he joked. The 30-year-old from Anhui province works as a security guard near Wangfujing pedestrian street.

"People rarely say hello or smile at a stranger," he said. "But now they pose for pictures with me, say Merry Christmas and thank me warmly because I am Santa."

Another Santa debutant is 21-year-old Zhou Xiao, who is visiting his Beijing family over the holiday.

A student at University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, Zhou is Santa for four hours a day at Shin Kong Place.

"Being Santa is the biggest Christmas gift for me," he says. "My father gave me Christmas gifts when I was young because he went abroad regularly; and gradually, I learned about Santa. The smiles and joy can be shared by people everywhere."

While the two debutants are learning the ropes, American Chris Parsons is a seasoned Santa - he has played the role for 13 of the 20 years he has lived in Beijing. Children scream for joy as they hear him approach.

"The best part of being Santa is making kids smile," said Parsons, who has worked as a magician, writer and teacher.

He said what he loves about Christmas in China is that it is new and different.

"Maybe we have forgotten the real meaning of Christmas but what's important is that it is a holiday for families to get together. Santa is a generous man. He brings a message for people to unite and remember what they mean to each other," said Parsons, who is Santa at Children's Puppet Theater.

What is the gift-giver's wish? "Every child can be happy, healthy, have a loving family and many opportunities in life!"

And what does Santa want in his own stocking?

"I hope Santa brings me and my wife a sweet, healthy baby for Christmas!" Parsons, 40, smiled, saying he and his wife are trying to have a baby next year.

Another American, Patrick Sullivan, who was recently crowned Beijing's Best Santa of 2008 by a city magazine, already has three daughters.

"I'll buy a camera for one, clothing for another and something useful for the third.

"But Santa lives in our hearts no matter how old we are," said the 42-year-old marketing manager.

(China Daily December 25, 2008)

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