Christmas in Covid-19: Malaysian Santa Claus performer of 14 years masks up to keep holiday spirit alive

Tan Mei Zi
·4-min read
Yap dons a red face mask to comply with Covid-19 safety precautions. It's one of the many changes he's had to make to his routine compared to previous years (right). — Picture courtesy of Alex Yap
Yap dons a red face mask to comply with Covid-19 safety precautions. It's one of the many changes he's had to make to his routine compared to previous years (right). — Picture courtesy of Alex Yap

PETALING JAYA, Dec 21 — The holiday season would not be the same without Santa Claus trotting in with a bag of presents and belting out his signature line, “Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas!”

However, the Covid-19 pandemic means this year’s celebrations will be markedly different and Malaysian Santa Claus performer Alex Yap knows this all too well.

The end of the year is usually a busy period for Yap but business has taken a sharp dive as many clients have decided to err on the side of caution and not host any Santa-related activities this year.

“Requests for Santa performances have dropped by at least 80 to 90 per cent but I expected this to happen.

“Normally, I would be performing at shopping malls but many of the big malls in Malaysia have not requested talents to perform for Christmas this year,” Yap told Malay Mail.

For now, most of Yap’s performances are limited to private parties and he has made a point to ensure that Father Christmas sticks to Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs).

During performances as Santa in previous years, Yap would use musical instruments to enhance his Santa character. — Picture courtesy of Alex Yap
During performances as Santa in previous years, Yap would use musical instruments to enhance his Santa character. — Picture courtesy of Alex Yap

“Now that we’re in a pandemic, safety comes first so I will wear a normal mask and layer another red mask on top to match my outfit.

“I also have to make sure all my props are sanitised and I communicate with my clients to tell them that I need to keep a distance from the kids, at least one metre or more.

“It’s very challenging because live performances are always about the connection between the performer and the audience.”

While the pandemic has led to major hurdles, Yap said one can never be too careful and he has redesigned his routine to prevent any physical contact with others throughout his performance.

He usually hands out gifts like balloons and other trinkets to the audience but he stopped doing so at recent events to stay on the safe side.

Due to these limitations, Yap says it was especially important to pay special care to other aspects of his Santa Claus performance to keep the Christmas spirit alive.

Believing in Santa Claus

Yap has been a professional entertainer for more than two decades and brings various talents to the table, including juggling, magic tricks, storytelling, balloon-making and ventriloquism. — Picture courtesy of Alex Yap
Yap has been a professional entertainer for more than two decades and brings various talents to the table, including juggling, magic tricks, storytelling, balloon-making and ventriloquism. — Picture courtesy of Alex Yap

Yap, who is now in his 40s, has spent the last 14 years playing Santa Claus and has been a professional entertainer for more than 21 years now.

He works with an entertainment studio based in Ampang called Allan and Friends.

Besides bringing Saint Nick to life, he also performs as a clown, magician, puppeteer, and more.

Yap said authenticity was critical to a good performance and he always went the extra mile to create a character that audiences could believe in.

Achieving Santa’s full-bellied look and wintery visage is an art in itself and Yap said that the ideal Santa should look “fat and fluffy” and his face should give off a “winter feel.”

Even small details, such as how he adjusts his glasses and the tone of voice he uses while performing as Santa, can go a long way.

“As Santa, you want to look fat but not ‘pregnant.’ Some performers focus too much on the belly and stuff too much padding in that area so it looks unbalanced.

“I have to paint my eyebrows white and put on foundation, eyeliner, and rouge on my cheek to give my appearance more of a winter feel.

“That way, people can see that this is a fine and detailed performance of the character.”

Creating an authentic Santa Claus character helps audiences suspend their disbelief for a moment and enjoy the Christmas spirit the jolly figure brings. — Picture courtesy of Alex Yap
Creating an authentic Santa Claus character helps audiences suspend their disbelief for a moment and enjoy the Christmas spirit the jolly figure brings. — Picture courtesy of Alex Yap

More than anything, Yap said that belief in the character was crucial for Santa performers to bring cheer and joy to the people he met.

With enough effort, Yap added that he can convince even the most sceptical of adults to suspend their disbelief for a moment and believe in the magic of Santa.

“Most talents are actors in a sense because they have a script and they may act the part without believing in it.

“If I don’t believe I can do this, to bring joy and happiness to my audience, something will always be missing no matter how good of an actor I am.

“That’s why my belief in the character is so important.”

Yap’s favourite part about playing Santa was when children asked him questions with Malaysian kids being inquisitive whenever they met the “man from the North Pole.”

He has a lot of fun coming up with creative answers to hard questions, including ones about how Santa’s reindeer can survive in Malaysia’s hot climate.

“Some four or five-year-olds might ask me, ‘Santa, how did you get here (to Malaysia)?’

“I will tell them that this year is very special. Since Malaysia doesn’t have snow, I came by car and I kept my reindeer in a safe place.

“Sooner or later, they will find out the truth but in that moment, you want to help them to keep believing in Santa.”

Yap is set to appear as Santa Claus in an upcoming Christmas special on TV2 on December 25, 9pm with his fellow performers from Allan and Friends.

You can keep up with his festive activities by visiting his Facebook page.

Related Articles Covid-19: Penang may cancel Thaipusam’s chariot procession to prevent mass gathering Muhyiddin antara terawal bakal terima vaksin Covid-19 Health group defends Putrajaya's Covid-19 vaccine effort, says 'opportunists' spreading lies