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World Santa Claus Congress opens in Copenhagen

By Jan M. Olsen

Associated Press

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — It’s July — and the Christmas tree is lit, bells are jingling and jolly elves are doing "yula-hoops" on stage.

What else could it be but the annual World Santa Claus Congress — filling a Danish amusement park with summer Christmas merriment for the 52nd consecutive year.

Five months ahead of the holidays, nearly 140 St. Nicks kicked off their three-day convention Monday at the Bakken park north of Copenhagen. Most were from Scandinavia but some came from as far away as Russia, Japan and the United States.

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Visitors lined up to watch the Santas, the Mrs. Clauses and all their little helpers parade through the park, bellowing "Ho-hos" and singing Christmas carols. Other activities included a bicycle parade, "yula-hoop" twirls and a brief swim in Copenhagen’s famous harbor.

These jobs are not for couch potatoes. One of Monday’s highlights was the obstacle course, where bearded Kris Kringles raced past a sleigh and up a small hill built of ice before climbing down a fake chimney.

Later this week, they were also to visit children in a nearby hospital, cruise through the Danish capital in a sightseeing boat and hold tounge-in-cheek seminars about the 21st century challenges facing their vocation.

"We have real modern-time problems we need to discuss with our colleagues," said Fred Rootveld, a Dutch Sinterklaas. "How do we get into people’s homes when there are no chimneys on the houses to climb down?"

Delegates go by a range of different names — from the French Papa Noel to the Danish Julemand to St. Nick — but the Bakken park said "they are all real Santas."

While that claim could not be confirmed, there’s no doubt the festival has become increasingly popular since it was first held in 1957 as a purely local event.

"You really get in the Christmas spirit ahead of time," said Tony Zehavi, spokesman for the event.

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