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Sallu takes on Santa this X'mas

Santa Claus isn't the only character in demand this Christmas, party planners and children tell us. In fact, Angry Birds, Jack Sparrow, Salman Khan and characters from the Twilight series are so popular at Christmas parties this year that should Santa really drop by Mumbai homes, he may well find eggs and rum laid out in place of cookies and milk, finds Anjana Vaswani

This is quite an opportunity for me...I've been getting more and more worried about Christmas. Seems we're all so busy trying to beat the other fellow in making things go faster and look shinier and cost less that Christmas and I are sort of getting lost in the shuffle," said Kris Kringle (the character who played Santa Claus) in The Miracle on 34th Street (1947).


Party planner Viral Shah can make you a cartoon-video (Rs 1,500
onwards)with your child seated beside Santa as his jingling sleigh soars
over a township, "but that's not what kids want these days," he says.
"They prefer to be featured as Spiderman, Little Mermaid or Dora the
Explorer." They also love Bollywood stars, he adds.



He may be inclined to emphasise this point to the city's party planners today if he dropped by one of the fancy Christmas parties they've organised. Sure, he'd have found a Santa Claus in attendance (or if you're under 11 and reading this, one of his many helpers), but like Vanita Rodrigues of Joyride Party Planners (Lower Parel and Pedder Road) explains, "While kids do look forward to Santa Claus' arrival, Disney characters are also very popular nowadays."

She reasons, "As there are so many Christmas parties here all through December -- at schools and clubs for instance -- sometimes the host also wants other characters at the party to ensure kids remain entertained. So, at a Christmas party we organised recently, we had some Disney mascots accompany Santa and had a host of general party games with a Christmasy twist -- like a Treasure Hunt that involved looking for Santa Claus paraphernalia and a Dress up like Santa stall."



Even the display at Bandra's Damian, famed for its cribs that come up religiously a week or two before Christmas each year, has a host of character surrounding baby Jesus this year, including a tumbling Jack and Jill.

More than Santa
Pedder Road resident Druhi Choksi (11) would have enjoyed that party. Though Choksi used to believe in Santa until she turned five, now, her favourite character is Snow White. "I remember asking my mother if Santa was real and remember being disappointed when I learnt the truth," she shares honestly, happy to add that her friend Syrah however, "still loves everything related to Christmas. She's absolutely crazy about it."
It was never the presents that excited Choksi though, it was the whole holiday sentiment and, now, she looks forward to Diwali each year. Admitting that most of her friends have grown out of the Santa Claus phase, she reveals, "Most of the kids my age love Kick Buttowski."

Of course, Santa's still very popular with some kids. Though nine year-old Altamount Road-resident Tanvi Khiani's favourite character is Willy Wonka from Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, she tells us she still believes in Santa Claus, "as does my seven-year-old sister, Ayesha." The two girls have put up a beautiful Christmas tree and both expect gifts this Christmas, having been very good children through the year.
Seven year-old Colaba-resident Jaan Lalwani too is eagerly awaiting Santa's visit. "I like Santa because he gives us chocolates," Lalwani says innocently. "I believe in Santa. I believe if we're good he'll give us gifts," he adds, his tiny face lighting up at the thought. Yet, despite his infectious enthusiasm, Jaan cheerily admits that of all the magical characters he knows of, if he had to choose one to spend Christmas with, "it'd be with Harry Potter."

Make room for Edward and Bella
Harry Potter's also popular with his 12 year-old sister Malika, who tells us that though she doesn't stock faith in the entire legend of Santa Claus, she does love seeing Santa around Christmas time. Given a choice, Malika admits she'd love to spend Christmas with Harry Potter and crew, and also believes, "Most of my friends would like to spend it with Justin Bieber." The sight of Santa, Malika says, puts her, "in a holiday mood. It's the season for giving, to focus on the underprivileged," she says rather sagely. Unlike many kids, Malika also reveals that she actually knows the legend of Santa. "I read somewhere that there was a saint called St Nicholas who gave gifts to underprivileged children."

Thirteen year-old Cuffe Parade-resident Siddarth Sood, however, doesn't wait up for Santa Claus. "None of my friends believe in Santa Claus either," Sood admits, telling us that he faintly recalls that he once did (he estimates he must have been three or five years old then).

Asked whether the school or club Christmas party was exciting this year, Sood says, "I actually cherish an extra holiday more than an elaborate celebration because it means more time to read."
 
Right now, Sood's favourite characters are Bella Swan and Jacob Black, he tells us, showing us the Twilight novels his parents gifted him about a year ago. He has them stacked in an ebony cabinet right above the study table in his room. Sood leafs through Twilight, the first novel in the series, as he tells us how most kids his age are captivated by werewolves and vampires right now.

When asked specifically which characters his closest friends like however, Sood, who attends a co-educational school in South Mumbai, considers it for a moment and says, "Most of my friends don't like to read. They like watching Hindi movies so their favourite characters are Indian film stars."

Sallu beats X'mas
Bollywood stars have truly stolen poor old Santa's thunder this year, it would seem. Just six days before Christmas, when we spoke to them, Viral Shah's team (Digital Fantasy party planners) was managing two birthday parties -- a Dora theme party for a five year-old in Andheri and a Bollywood theme party for a four year old boy in Juhu.

Posing between life-size cut-out standees of Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan, Shah was happy to share, "At today's Bollywood party, the birthday boy will make an entrance on a battery-operated bike while Salman Khan's dialogues boom out of the speakers."

The Christmas spirit will be confined to one activity-stall at this grand affair. "Kids may paint POP Santa masks which they can take home with them," Shah says, emphasising that kids today prefer an array of adventure-activities.

"Bungee jumping and rock-climbing are popular but we also have a boat activity -- we create a pool on the site and have battery-operated boats in this for kids to steer."
For those who think clicking a picture with Santa is terribly pass �, Shah can have their child posing as a helper in Santa's workshop at the North Pole. He can even make you a cartoon-video (Rs 1,500 onwards) with your child seated beside Santa as his jingling sleigh soars over a township, "but that's not what kids want these days," Shah says.

"They prefer to be featured as Spiderman, Little Mermaid or Dora the Explorer," he says.

The pirate stole Santa's thunder
Dr Sagar More, proprietor of Celebrations party planners, a 25 year-old company located in Andheri, couldn't agree more. "Kids still love the bearded man in fancy dress, but it's not Santa Claus who captures their imagination anymore -- most kids prefer Jack Sparrow," he says.
In his experience, things changed about two years ago when foreign adventure-sport equipment became readily available locally.

"Now, even younger kids want more than just Santa Claus at parties," shares More. "Kids look forward to activities like bungee jumping and rock climbing even at Christmas parties," he says, and, providing a few examples of what they've been offering at Christmas parties this year, he adds, "Trampolines and activities such as our roller ball -- a giant see-through ball that kids walk inside -- and our bucking-bull ride have been immensely popular at these events. Christmas is certainly not just about Santa Claus these days."

In addition to Jack Sparrow, city kids seem to love Chhota Bheem, Doraemon, Ben 10 and superheroes like Batman, says More adding, "Bollywood stars still top the list of their favourite heroes though."

While he tells us that these characters therefore often accompany Santa Claus at local Christmas parties, More says, "Instead of getting just Santa Claus, the host generally prefers it if he's accompanied by some act. So, often, a juggler will escort Santa Claus to his seat."

Four year-old Colaba-resident Ranai Rai's favourite characters are Chhota Bheem and Ben 10. While Rai is still mesmerised by the magic of Christmas, he seems just a tad more mesmerised by cricket.

"I believe in Santa Claus but I am a cricketer," he says quickly, his enthusiasm mounting as he details his strengths. "I can bat well and I can bowl very fast," he tells us, sharing that he usually plays the sport with school-friends. "I was surprised to hear him introduce himself with his real name," his mother laughs, "Usually, when people ask him his name, he says it's Mahendra Singh."

Why you hang up stockings for Christmas
Though there are many different versions of the story, one popular account may have been derived from an illustrated children's book titled Sint Nicolaas en zijn knecht (Saint Nicholas and His Servant), that was written in 1850 by Dutch teacher and author Jan Schenkman.  Schenkman, it is believed, was among the first to create images of Sinterklaas delivering presents through the chimney, as he rode over roofs on a gray horse.

According to the legend based on this story, St Nicholas of Myra (present-day Turkey) once heard of a man who had suddenly lost his entire fortune. The man had two daughters of marriageable age, and had lost hope that they would find a match since he had no dowry to offer. St Nicholas wanted to help, but he also wanted to do so without embarrassing the family. So, late one night, he rode past their house and noticing that the fire had been put out in the fireplace, he tossed a sack of gold coins down the chimney.

As the sack slid down the flue, it burst open and its contents poured into stockings that had been hung on the sill to dry. This story was passed down through the ages and made its way into American poet Clement Clarke Moore's poem A Visit from St Nicholas, a little less than two centuries ago.

Does the UK love Christmas more than the US?
Not a single Christmas song featured on America's Top 40 as of December 17, and when we checked its status earlier this week, these were the songs that occupied the Top 10 positions: Rihanna: We Found Love; David Guetta: Without You; LMFAO: Sexy and I know it; Stereo Hearts and Adam Levine: Gym Class Heroes; Marron 5: Moves Like Jagger; Adele: Someone Like You; Cobra Starship: You make me feel; Katy Perry: The one that got away; Bruno Mars: It will rain and Flo Rida: Good Feeling.

In the UK, on the other hand, the BBC Radio 1's compilation of top 40 songs (December 18) included six Christmas numbers. Mariah Carey's All I want for Christmas, in fact, has held the No 12 spot for the last 60 weeks there. It just moved up one spot to No 11, a week ago. The X factor finalists' rendition of Wishing on a Star is at No 17, Justin Bieber's Mistletoe's at No 25, Wham's Last Christmas is at No 28, Wizzard's I wish it could be Christmas Everyday is at the No 31 spot, and Slade's Merry Christmas Everybody is at No 37.

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