Great Ho, ho-ho

Great Ho, ho-ho

A young Hongkonger travelled to the Icy North to prove that our Santas are made of fine jolly stuff

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Ho Wing-leong competes in his full Santa outfit in Gallivare.
Ho Wing-leong competes in his full Santa outfit in Gallivare.
When foreigners think of Hong Kong, they might think of Victoria Harbour or the finance industry or world-class shopping - or our famous salted fish and shrimp paste.

But recently, Hong Kong added one more speciality to its list: top-notch Santas.

Seriously! In November, local magician Ho Wing-leong took part in the Santa Winter Games in Sweden's Gallivare, a mining town of about 8,500 people located 100 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. And Ho - a great name for a Santa! - came second, right behind Santa Holland.

Ho calls himself Rainbow Santa. He is the latest in a line of Hong Kong Santas who have been among the top three finalists for the past four years at the annual contest, which began in 2003 and welcomes Santas from all over the world.

Contestants have to overcome different "missions" such as riding a mechanical reindeer, eating porridge, and operating a sleigh. It's exciting because the twist is that no one knows what they will be tested on until one week before the competition. One new event is revealed every day. The jury is looking for the best all-round Santa Claus.

Ho proved to be just that, but he might not seem the classic Santa type: he's 21 and weighs around 60 kilograms. Yet he first played Santa when he was in Form Two and drew on that experience to defeat seven other local contenders and win the chance to go to Sweden.

And such Santa stuff is no child's play. Before flying north, Ho did everything he could to make sure he was ready to compete in the Santa Claus grand slam. He even prepared for snowy events despite Hong Kong's tropical climate.

"It doesn't snow in Hong Kong. So instead of pushing a sleigh installed with blades, I practised with one on wheels," he says.

Nor could he practise properly for the riding event - which involved contestants holding tightly onto the back of a mechanical bull.

"I ended up lying on a pile of wooden plates [attached to a rope] and asked my friend, who is very strong, to swing me around," he says, laughing. "I wore layers of thick clothes for protection."

But that sort of training did not work out too well for him. He managed to stay on the mechanical reindeer in Sweden for just 10 seconds. Santa Holland rode it for at least a minute.

But Rainbow Santa did not give up. He made a comeback in the porridge-eating event. Back in Hong Kong, he had been anticipating the event by gorging on Christmas porridge every day. He tried to gulp it down as quickly as possible with acceptable table manners.

"First I didn't know what the porridge tasted like, but Santa Mario [from Hong Kong], who came third last year, had made me a similar one to try," he says.

Ho also carefully trimmed the fake white beard and wig he wore round his chin so that porridge would not stain his beard. It worked: he came first in the porridge-eating contest.

And for good measure, this Hong Kong Santa also experienced real snow for the first time when he reached Gallivare.

"I ate ice lollies in freezing cold weather with Santa Mario," he says.

"I also did the 'angel'," Ho says, referring to the way people make pictures of angels in the snow.

With his silver medal, Ho has decided to retire and give other local Santa wannabes a chance. But he won't hang up his Santa suit for good. Like Santa Mario, he wants to assist the Hong Kong contestant to go as far as he can at the next Santa Winter Games.

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