Page last updated at 00:42 GMT, Wednesday, 23 July 2008 01:42 UK

From Luton to Denmark - a Santa's tale

By Chris Mason
BBC News, Copenhagen

As surreal experiences go, this really does take some beating - 150 Santas from 12 countries driving through the streets of the Danish capital in buses as part of the World Santa Congress.

Malta Santa
Santas from 12 countries including Malta and the UK joined in the event

A peaceful ride is certainly out of the question. On trumpets and trombones, they are blasting out Christmas song after Christmas song.

And in case you were wondering, the big day is still 22 weeks off.

Yes, it might be July and 25C - but the Christmas tree is lit, the buses are decked out in festive bunting and passing commuters are treated to repeated "Ho Ho Hos" every time we stop at any traffic lights.

One passing driver playfully attempts Jingle Bells on his car horn - before manfully admitting defeat when he realises that button in the middle of the steering wheel is a little lacking when it comes to musical sophistication.

Amongst the jolly, well-fed men in red coats and trousers is Britain's representative to the World Santa Congress, Ron Horniblew from Luton in Bedfordshire.

As I introduce myself he asks me to speak up - and removes the part of his fake beard that is covering his ears.

Ron Horniblew and his wife from Luton
Ron Horniblew can normally be found in the Arndale Centre, Luton
Ron, 72, can usually be found in his grotto in the Arndale Centre in Luton or the Centre MK in Milton Keynes.

But not today. It's Copenhagen's picturesque harbour instead.

"This really is bonkers!" he says.

"It is lovely to be able to make people smile and that is what we do. I have been a Santa for 45 years - and this is my third visit to this event. My wife says she can't beat me so she has to join me - and that's why she is here too!"

Sure enough, his Mrs Claus, Betty, 73, is here - and suitably dressed up to boot.

"It is great fun and you can make some wonderful friends. It's lovely to meet children from lots of different countries too," she adds, before disappearing into a sea of St Nicks.

Next, it's on board a boat for a cruise around the city, and this time Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer is the ditty of choice.

Music to the ears of Albert McCarthy, 65, from Malta.

American Santa
Only one Santa remembered to pack his matching swimming trunks
"I am proud to say I am the only Malta Santa!" he tells me. He's also proud that his Santa-style beard is anything but fake. "When they invited me I couldn't even believe it! Here we are, in July, celebrating Christmas!"

High on this Congress's agenda is the size of Christmas presents, rooftop sleigh parking conditions - and the size of Santa's waistline, which is causing trouble negotiating many a chimney.

The solution? Exercise. First a swim, then a bike ride.

Alas, it's only American Santa who's brought his festive looking trunks.

Douglas Gowin, 50, from Washington DC, dubs himself "Soggy Santa" as he emerges from the harbour, but he's beaming.

"I have been a Santa back home for 15 years - and I love it. Just look at peoples' reactions to us lot. A smile on a person's face is payment in full."

As the bike ride gets under way, a fleet of support cars is in hot pursuit. Mainly hired by reporters, photographers donning Santa hats peer precariously out of sunroofs to try and grab the perfect shot.

Cycling Santas
Part of the day included a bike ride in the city centre
The tour comes to an end in the Kgs. Nytorv, a square in the heart of Copenhagen.

Tourists grab their cameras and pose for pictures with their home country's Santa.

For the UK's Ron Horniblew, it's a chance to meet the Hodder family from Littlehampton in West Sussex.

Adam, 11, is impressed. "I think it's very groovy," he says, smiling.

Younger sister Caitlin, six, agrees. "It's really lovely music. They go dinga, longa, dang! I love it!"

So the spectators are happy, but this Congress - the 51st here - isn't over yet. It'll finish on Wednesday with the small matter of a world record attempt - the largest possible number of Santas hoola-hooping in unison is the aim.



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