Mui Wo residents Peter Price and Terry Richards come into their own each Christmas as Santa and his Elf. Elizabeth Kerr chats with them over a beer in The Water Buffalo.
It’s coming up on happy hour at Pui O’s The Water Buffalo, and so the little eatery’s proprietor, Chris, talks up the local brew: Night Trail Brown Ale. As a proponent of supporting local business, I try it. It’s not bad.
Perhaps Chris can sense that meeting Mui Wo’s own private Santa Claus – and his Elf – is going to demand a drink. After all, this writer’s favourite on-screen Santa is Billy Bob Thornton’s foul-mouthed Bad Santa. Talking of Xmas movies, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is fine until the Grinch’s heart grows three sizes, and the best part of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is the subversive elf Hermey (ah, the ’60s).
But when the soft-spoken 74-year-old Peter Price and sixty something Terry Richardson show up in full Christmas regalia – cheery, relaxed and already drawing attention from some kids grabbing a bite on the patio – I’m quickly won over. They immediately prove a point, which is that the simple pleasures of the holiday disarm even the most cynical among us.
“What we do puts a smile on people’s faces,” says Terry. “Kids are kids. Even old ones. Even us.”
A Mui Wo tradition
Mui Wo residents know Peter and Terry for their annual walkabouts in the district, around the public schools and supermarkets and such, dressed up in full red Santa suit and green elf gear, dishing out sweets to children. (Terry dons a particularly stellar pair of elf shoes that Peter wangled from a UK shop window.) They don’t do it for money. They don’t do it for fame. They do it because it’s fun. And because Peter has a real, kick-ass white beard.
“That’s how it started, with a kid on the bus who was curious about the beard, because it was Christmas time,” recalls Peter between sips of his own Night Trail. Roughly five years ago, a little girl on a bus was mesmerised by Peter’s facial hair and worked up the courage to ask him if he was Santa. He said no, but that Santa was an ancestor, and now he helps out in December. Immediately after that, Terry was doing a promotion for the models he makes and the duo decided to do it up Christmas style. Thus was born a Mui Wo tradition.
Tales of Christmas past
A retired marine engineer and automotive executive, the Welshborn Peter – “make sure you put that in there,” he says. “I’m from Wales” – has been in Hong Kong for nearly 25 years, and in Pui O for 10. Similarly, London-native Terry, an architectural model builder and construction industry pro, landed in Hong Kong 21 years ago, and with the exception of a short stint in DB, has called Pui O home ever since.
“I lived in Discovery Bay for the first year, for the convenience,” Terry explains. “But I spent most weekends around here with friends. I moved as soon as my contract was finished and never looked back. I know the people and I wouldn’t think about moving anywhere else.”
Peter agrees, remembering his surprise that somewhere like Pui O existed in the territory. When his wife lobbied to relocate from Beijing to Hong Kong for their son’s schooling, he initially balked. “I resisted that for a long time because to me Hong Kong was Central and Causeway Bay, but one day a friend offered me a stay in his house in Lam Tin, and that was it.”
Santa and his Elf met and became friends after Peter had some work done on his home that Terry was overseeing.
Keeping the magic alive
Peter and Terry’s Santa and his Elf jaunts (starting on the last school day before Christmas) come from a very simple love of the holiday; both call it their favourite of the year. “For me it’s a family time. I can’t be bothered with birthdays and anniversaries too much, but Christmas is when the family gets together,” says Peter.
Terry agrees that Christmas is his favourite celebration, for much the same reasons. At the end of the day, it’s a family affair,” he says. “I’m into the magic of Christmas. I was 21 before I realized Santa wasn’t real.”
That’s the key to Peter and Terry’s success as roaming Santa and Elf. They keep it genuine and just have a good time. Hong Kong laws make it impossible to prop kids on Santa’s knee for photos, but they have a magic stool that helps. The stool sits beside Peter, who tells kids it will indicate to Santa if they’ve been naughty or nice during the year. “One boy heard that and asked, ‘Can I stand up?’” Terry notes. “We could barely go on we were laughing so hard.” Peter and Terry have dozens of stories like that, which is its own reward.
This Santa and his Elf prefer to keep the gift-giving modest. They won’t be appearing in Tung Chung for HK$1,200 perhour. “We like it to be local and we like it to be fun. Once you put money into the equation, it changes the whole thing,” says Peter.
The duo do break out the leprechaun gear for St Patrick’s Day, but beyond that, they’ve kept their eyes on the Christmas prize. And for the record, no: They are not in the market for a Mui Wo water buffalo they can stick antlers on.
Overall, Peter and Terry’s Christmas fantasy works like a dream, though they do encounter the occasional suspicious mind. “It’s one thing to see Santa but then they see me in my elf gear, and they’re not quite sure what to make of it all,” says Terry.
Peter has his share of ‘pork pies’ to tell, but it’s worth the effort. “I remember being so disappointed when I found out Santa wasn’t real. I wasn’t quite 21.” He waits a beat. “He was 19,” Terry finishes for him, to a chorus of laughter. “It’s nice to keep the magic alive. Kids need that, especially nowadays.” Hermey would approve.Tags: mui wo, south lantau, christmas season, Santa and his elf