30 years of charity: a look back at the history of Hong Kong’s Operation Santa Claus

30 years of charity: a look back at the history of Hong Kong’s Operation Santa Claus

The truly generous nature of Hongkongers comes alive at Christmas, but did you know that the campaign began, not in 1988, but in 1960?

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Singers Elisa Chan Kit-ling and Alex To Tak-wai help Santa Claus raise funds in 1989.
Photo: SCMP

Operation Santa Claus (OSC) has, for nearly three decades, committed itself to changing lives for the better – but the roots of the Hong Kong-based charity drive lie a lot further back in time than its first campaign in 1988.

In 1960, Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) ran a music marathon of their listeners’ favourite songs. In return, RTHK asked their listeners to donate money to them. Radio DJs wearing Christmas costumes hiked up The Peak in the name of charity. They even jumped into the freezing cold waters of Victoria Harbour to raise money.

RTHK’s deputy director of broadcasting, Tai Keen-man, can recall past stunts they performed as if they happened yesterday.

“Our DJs and presenters [all had to] gather at Queen’s Pier [a public pier in front of City Hall, demolished in 2007]. When the donations reached a certain amount, they would jump into the water,” he said with a laugh.


HK$16 million raised for good causes thanks to Operation Santa Claus 2016


These stunts ended in the 1970s, after the Community Chest of Hong Kong was launched in 1968. The Community Chest gave Hongkongers an official charity to donate their money to – which might have seemed like a better thing to do.

“Maybe people wondered why [they had to donate to see] these crazy gweilos doing these things, when they could donate to the Community Chest,” said Alastair Monteith-Hodge, who was a RTHK presenter and producer in the 80s, and helped organise the first official campaign.

Santa Claus gets a donation as he hikes up the Peak in 1960.
Photo: SCMPOST

In 1988, the South China Morning Post offered RTHK free advertising space in their paper to promote OSC. As the campaign grew, it began to attract more companies, schools, and organisations. As we mark the 30th OSC campaign, it is now one of Hong Kong’s biggest charity drives.

OSC, which is organised by the SCMP and RTHK, looks at the community’s needs, explains them to the public, and helps direct assistance to where it is most wanted at Christmas. Donations are collected from schools, clubs, companies and citizens, and fundraising events are held during the festive period.


Operation Santa Claus beneficiary Benji's Centre offers speech therapy to those who can't afford it


“Christmas is a time for giving. It’s when people feel generous,” said Monteith-Hodge, now the chief executive of the Children’s Cancer Foundation.

One of those who hugely benefited from OSC is Gloria Cheng Pui-yan, who was just 13 when she was diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia. Thanks to the charity campaign, she was Hong Kong’s first-ever child to receive a bone-marrow transfusion.

People from all walks of life in Hong Kong have made donations to OSC. Students have also played their part, organising a range of creative activities to raise funds for the charity campaign.

Last year, schools like Korean International School raised more than HK$380,000 combined.
Photo: SCMP

Last year, schools across Hong Kong raised more than HK$380,000 for OSC. The money went towards supporting 23 beneficiaries, most of which are Hong Kong-based charities that serve local communities.

Tammy Tam, the teacher in charge of OSC fundraising at St Clare’s Girls’ School, said they like to take part in the campaign every single year because they know that the donations go to good causes all over the city. No doubt St Clare’s is just one of many schools sure to be coming up with imaginative ways to prove Hongkongers care.

For more information on how you can help, visit the Operation Santa Claus website.

Edited by Ginny Wong

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Three decades of generosity

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