“It feels great, I really didn’t expect it. Now I have to come back and defend my title next year,” 24-year-old Santa champion Sinter Klas Stefan Veronderd of The Netherlands told the local Norrbottens Kuriren newspaper after claiming his prize.
Veronderd bested eight other competitors from as far afield as Japan, France, and Colombia to win the eighth installment of what is considered the unofficial Santa Claus world championships.
Prior to the competition he told the organizers that his tactics included being the “merriest, youngest and best trained Santa” as well as winning the jury over with his “charming ‘hohoho’ laughter”.
While events such as porridge eating, the Santa-sack race, and Candy Cane spree went off without a hitch, a lack of snow forced organizers to cancel the reindeer riding competition, traditionally a crowd favourite.
Even though a dusting of snow arrived just ahead of the start of the competition to coat the streets of Gällivare, the sprinkling of white stuff still wasn’t enough to bring out the animals that traditionally pull Santa’s sleigh.
“This is the first time in 63 years we didn’t have enough snow cover this time of year,” Mattias Svalenström of the Gällivare tourist office told The Local.
“The contestants were shocked. But we decided to have them ride a mechanical bull instead. The event drew a lot of laughs and was appreciated by contestants and onlookers alike.”
All the competitors, many of whom had been crowned the official Santa of their respective countries, did a solid job at channeling the spirit of jolly old St. Nick, according to Svalenström.
But the eventual champion outclassed the rest of the Santa pack through his rendition of “Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer” in the Santa Karaoke competition.
“He was very, very good,” Svalenström said.
“He started off with an opera falsetto and really got the crowd on his side.”
Svalenström explained that participants in the Santa competition are chosen in part from attendees at a global Santa congress held every summer in Denmark.
“But our event has become so well known that we get applications all year long.”
While organizers prefer that contestants’ facial hair is genuine, having a home-grown shaggy white beard isn’t a prerequisite.
“I mean, you can’t come here in a silly mask, but a fake beard is OK,” said Svalenström.
“Sometimes its harder for the Asian Santas to produce the sort of facial hair growth one usually associates with Santa.”
He added that the organizers and competitors alike take the event very seriously.
“There aren’t any cigarettes or alcohol,” Svalenström said.
“They are here to be Father Christmas and be a good role model for children.”
The winner of the competition is chosen by a three-member jury consisting of a local city official, Gällivare’s own official Santa, and by the person who serves as the competition mascot.