'Underwater' Santa Claus a Hit in Mexico

Guadalajara (Mexico), Dec 26 (IANS/EFE): Thousands of children and adults visited the zoo in the city of Guadalajara, capital of the western Mexican state of Jalisco to see the "underwater" Santa Claus, who dives in one of the fish tanks at the aquarium.

Also known as "Aqua Claus", the character has become the main attraction between Wednesday and Friday at the Guadalajara Zoo during the current Christmas season, aquarium director Luis Eduardo Quintero told EFE.

"It's the first time we've had this Santa and he's a big hit with the kiddies, who usually imagine the guy coming out of a chimney," the official said.

Amid algae, stones and fish, the jolly old Christmas elf sparks laughter, surprise and a whole assortment of emotions among the kids watching him.

With the water at a temperature of 10 degrees Celsius to simulate the the frosty North Pole, Santa Claus with his oxygen tube dives underwater in a fish tank to interact with those watching him for 30 minutes.

The youngsters no sooner see him than they run to the thick glass separating them from the fellow with the floating white beard, who, wordlessly, gets them laughing and jumping up and down with excitement.

Santa stands on his head, acts like he's on a sleigh ride, waves a golden bell, asks the kids for their letters to Santa listing their Christmas wishes, asks if they've been good little girls and boys, shows them drawings to see what they want for Christmas, and even poses for souvenir photographs.

Playing one of the best-known characters in the world can't be easy, not just because of the water temperature but because he has to wear a special suit, a belt with between 10 and 20 kg of weights so he can sink to the bottom, and, above all, he needs a scuba-diving certificate.

But it's all worthwhile when you see the kids' reaction, says Gerardo Espinoza Sandoval, one of the zoo's three scuba-diving Santas.

"It's an experience that pays you back because you see the kids' expression that tells you that we still believe in magic and because it makes you remember when you were little," the Santa, a veterinarian by profession, said.

The success of the underwater Santa Claus has been so great that the zoo's administrators are already thinking about the scenery and set design for next year.

Meanwhile they expect visitors with children to flock to the zoo between Dec 25 and Jan 2 on their Christmas vacation.


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