x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Santa comes to UAE, but it's 'too hot for reindeer'

Santa takes time out from his busy visit in the UAE to spread the magic of the festive season

Greta Goedvolk, 6, meets Santa at the Kempinski Hotel, Mall of the Emirates, yesterday. She was disappointed he couldn't give her a pet bunny but said he was still
Greta Goedvolk, 6, meets Santa at the Kempinski Hotel, Mall of the Emirates, yesterday. She was disappointed he couldn't give her a pet bunny but said he was still "awesome". Mike Young / The National

It was the night before Christmas Eve and in Aspen Cafe, Dubai, Santa Claus paused for a moment.

"What do I like to find after I climb down a chimney? Well, the standard milk and cookies [is great] but Santa's getting old, so I try and go for low-fat milk and don't eat cookies all the time," he said, nodding his head in approval.

In the UAE for a quick stopover before heading back to the North Pole, Santa, who spoke with a Canadian twang, has been meeting children at the Kempinski Hotel, at Mall of the Emirates, for the past three weeks.

Although this is his busiest time of year, making the effort to see youngsters is a vital part of his job.

"It's nice to visit with the children and to keep in touch with the sort of things they like," he said. "The elves are pretty good at keeping me up to speed on things but sometimes [the children have] questions that surprise you."

Meeting children helps to keep the Claus family up-to-date with the latest toys, such as Monster High, he said.

Moving between his bright red seat and the crowds of children passing through the restaurant, Santa - who was hired by Pink Elephant, a branch of Flying Elephant Group, a corporate and family entertainment company - has had his Christmas knowledge repeatedly put to the test.

"The most common [questions] are: what do the reindeer eat? Do they eat candy canes? How many elves do you have? It's amazing what kids can think [of]."

Carrying forth the message and spirit of Christmas on his own, Santa said the sunny weather in the UAE meant he could not bring his reindeer on this trip.

"They just dropped me off because it was a bit too hot for them," he said. "They are back in the North Pole until they have to collect me."

Santa added that the sleigh had all the necessary permits to fly through UAE airspace.

Although he could not give one little girl the bunny she asked for - for health and safety reasons - Greta Goedvolk, 6, still holds Santa in high regard.

"He is awesome. I asked him if he gives out animals but he said no, because it is a big responsibility and a baby bunny might jump on all the presents."

Happy to settle instead for a toy rabbit and Moshlings - collectible toys - Greta and her friend, Lara Shonibare, had plenty of questions when they visited Santa on Sunday.

"I asked him, how can you travel to every single country in one night? He said it was because his reindeer go very fast," said Lara, who is also 6.

Moving the topic of conversation on to their favourite Christmas films, both girls chose How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Santa at Tumble Time, a parties and events management company, confessed that his favourite festive film was Jingle All The Way.

"This is my favourite Christmas film, because it touches my heart that he [the protagonist] wants to give his son a gift for Christmas and will do anything for his kid."

Santa said he had been visiting Dubai for six years and that each one was memorable as the last.

"I feel happy if I'm wearing the Santa suit and if I'm sharing that happiness with children. I [love] seeing the big smiles."

Full of smiles after asking for the presents they wanted for Christmas, all that remained for Greta and Lara to do was question was Santa's personal life.

"Are you 93?," asked one. "I think he is 40, or 90," mused another.

Unable to remember his age because he has been delivering presents for such a long time, Santa let the girls keep guessing.

He did not reveal Mrs Claus's age either, for fear of the trouble it would get him into.

Santa said he would be taking a well-deserved break after tomorrow's festivities ended.

zalhassani@thenational.ae