x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Ski Dubai adds Mr and Mrs Claus to winter wonderland

Santa and his wife feel very much at home at Ski Dubai, asking children what gifts they want on Christmas Day.

Santa and his wife feel very much at home at Ski Dubai, asking children what gifts they want on Christmas Day.
Santa and his wife feel very much at home at Ski Dubai, asking children what gifts they want on Christmas Day.

DUBAI // Though Santa Claus claims he is from the North Pole, he speaks with an distinct Australian accent.

He arrived in Dubai two weeks ago in what he claimed to be a "special kind of sleigh" and has been entertaining children at Ski Dubai, the indoor snow-sports zone in the Mall of the Emirates, ever since.

"It's pretty cold in here but for me it's like being at home," he said with a belly laugh that carried more than just a slight ring of familiarity. Cloaked in thick hide and fur, his job is to entertain wild-eyed children in the indoor ski centre's snow park for five hours a day.

"Generally they've been very well behaved," he said. "There have been a few mischievous ones, however." He did not say whether they were likely to find lumps of coal in their stockings as a result.

The man behind the beard is David Schoer and Mrs Claus is better known to her family in Australia as Mary Horgan.

The couple, who are not married in "real life", are employees of the Sydney-based marketing company Ridge Prom Marketing, which every year sends out about 60 Santas to malls in its homeland and abroad.

However, they are not the only Clauses in the Dubai sleigh. Instead of paying for an actor from another country, many firms here hunt for prospective Santas among the local expatriate community. One recent notice on the Dubizzle website tagged "Santa is needed - Urgently" requested English-speaking European applicants only.

The demand has resulted in at least one Santa-specific business. In an effort to help fill the demand for jolly Saint Nicks to perform at company Christmas parties, the masters students Sara Reyes-Cobar and Andrey Savchenko have set up a company offering them for hire.

Through recruiting fellow students from the Hult International Business School they have six Santas on their books from nations including India, Nigeria, Colombia, Spain, Russia and the US. The demand for multilingual Santas is higher in Dubai because of its diverse range of cultures.

"It's nice for kids if Santa can come and talk in their native language," said Mr Savchenko, a 24-year-old Russian. "People from different regions say they want their children to know that Santa is a multinational person."

"It's something which is secular and not religious," said Mr Savchenko. "It's about helping kids have fun, after all."

Indeed, malls across Dubai and Abu Dhabi are marking Christmas this year with huge trees and expensive baubles in an attempt to encourage shoppers to splash out on gifts and keeping Saint Nick in perspective.

"For us Santa is more of a commercial icon than a religious figure," said Fahad al Lawati, the Ski Dubai marketing manager.

"It's something which will attract customers and bring in more revenue. Ski Dubai is the only place in the region which has snow and it's the only place nearby where people can celebrate a white Christmas."

Mr al Lawati said that Ski Dubai had not needed to put much effort into recruiting this year's Santa Claus.

"We don't really go and look for Santa, he comes to us," he said. "This is where Santa feels most at home."

Back in their native Australia, Mr Schoer and Ms Horgan attend what is dubbed as "Santa school" every October in preparation for the Christmas season ahead.

In addition to learning the do's and don'ts of working with children, they also need to absorb a fair amount of Christmas lore.

"They haven't sent us on a field trip to Lapland yet but we can recite the names of the reindeer in our sleep," Mr Schoer said.