(Reuters) – A red suit with white trim and a silky beard have long been Santa’s trademark style, but the jolly figure bringing holiday cheer around the world comes in many guises, much like the varied shapes and sizes of the Christmas presents he bears.
But one wish unites all Santas, from Lebanon to Nigeria, in this year decimated by the coronavirus pandemic.
(Click https://reut.rs/3ni6SZ6 to see a picture package of Santas around the world.)
“My Christmas message to the world is to be kinder to everyone in a time when we are so isolated,” said Oliver Levi-Malouf, 22, who performs as a drag queen Santa at The Imperial Hotel in Sydney, with strikingly red lips and dramatic winged eye makeup.
Levi-Malouf puts on a Santa event for youth around Christmas time at the hotel, giving out colourful presents such as a feathered fascinator in the shape of a bird.
“Breathe, simply breathe,” is the advice of Dana Friedman, who has been a Santa since wanting to hearten first responders and their families after the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York.
Friedman, 61, who is an attorney, urges people take time this year to appreciate the beauty and good in the world. “While you’re at it, do something nice for a total stranger,” he said. “But don’t let them know you did it … Let them pay it forward in their own way.”
Japanese mambo musician Paradise Yamamoto has been a Santa for 23 years, and takes an annual certification test he says is no walk in the park. “I was tested on how quickly I ate ginger biscuits, climbed chimneys, and laughed merrily with a good ‘Ho, ho, ho’,” he said.
Yamamoto wants to reassure children that Santa is still coming to their houses this Christmas. “I’ve never heard of a Christmas where Santa Claus didn’t appear,” said the 58-year-old, who also owns a gyoza restaurant, where he works as a chef.
“I might try to get in your houses through a different route from usual, but I will most certainly visit everyone’s homes – after, of course, washing my hands, gargling, disinfecting the soles of my shoes, and taking the proper measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.”
Children excited to see Santa had better take note of the warning from Mexican actor and director of children’s theatre Alejandro Zelayaran, though.
“I will not visit children who do not respect their mother and father, who have not taken care of themselves during COVID and who have pulled practical jokes on their teachers during virtual classes,” he said.
Zelayaran, who will don a face shield when he distributes dolls and other gifts at an orphanage in Mexico City, also emphasises the importance of family. “Faith and hope must move the hearts of humanity,” said the 43-year-old.
“I want to see families taking care of each other and knowing that even from afar, love and hope always survive.”
Limachem Cherem, 64, who runs a school for Santas in Rio de Janeiro, will be spending more time in a studio this month, raising children’ spirits with recorded messages and live video chats.
He, too, encourages people reach out to each other.
“Get on the phone, send messages, it doesn’t cost much with the internet,” said the jovial man with a big beard. “Since we can’t hug in person, send a message of peace to a friend. He needs it, while he is at home.”
(Reporting by Reuters photographers; Writing by Karishma Singh; Editing by Lincoln Feast)