Christmas Village opens at 'China's North Pole'

10:15, December 25, 2010      

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A group of photographers in Santa costumes dance at a street parade on Friday in Luoyang, Henan province. They shared greetings with passers-by and handed out candy to children. [Provided to China Daily]

Russian timber and crude oil have been Mohe county's main imports during the past decade but the community brought in its strangest commodity this winter when it adopted the Christmas Village idea from Finland.

Mohe, which is in Northeast China's Heilongjiang province, is only the width of the Heilongjiang River away from Russia and, as the nation's most northerly point, is known as China's North Pole.

It's a place that knows a thing or two about winter and holds the distinction of having experienced China's lowest recorded temperature back in 1956 when the mercury plummeted to -52.3 C. But it's not a community that is prepared to let its remote location and extreme weather hold it back.

Since the 1990s, people have been flocking to Mohe during the summer months to witness the aurora borealis, or northern lights.

Some 430,000 tourists made the trip in 2009 and so far in 2010, there have been 620,000.

Now, the town is looking for a way to keep the tourists coming during the winter and its Christmas Village seemed like the perfect fit.

"Business across the seasons is not steady," said Ji Bin, secretary of the Mohe committee of the Communist Party of China.

"Summer visitors often fully book our hotels, so we build more hotels, but after we've built them, they're only occupied for a few months in summer. The rest of the year, they're empty."

Located on the outskirts of Beiji, Mohe's northernmost village some 88 kilometers from the county seat, the 1.2-square-kilometer park that opened on Monday is the first of its kind in China.

It features a Santa Claus House, a Christmas Post Office and snow buildings.

Santa's House is the headquarters of the village's most important resident - a plump, white-bearded man in a red suit and cap who hands out presents to children.

The two-floor wooden building is adorned with close to 100 Santa dolls. Decorations also hang from Christmas trees and there is a life-size model of a reindeer sleigh.

The building also houses Santa's office and bedroom.

Mohe officials emphasize that theirs is no ordinary Santa - he comes all the way from Finland, which boasts the world famous Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi.

"It's important for us, from the embassy's point of view, that Chinese people know more about Santa Claus," said Finnish Ambassador Lars Backstrom, who attended the opening of Mohe's Christmas Village.

"He didn't exist here not too long ago but now young people have taken him to heart."

The Finnish Santa will stay at the Christmas Village until Feb 17, the last day of the Spring Festival holiday.

Beyond the comfort of Santa's heated house and the Christmas post office are a number of snow buildings that include the Christmas Club, a bar with booths made from packed snow and a wine rack made of ice. There is also a Christmas Snow Castle that offers panoramic views of the village, and The Wish House, which offers visitors a place to post notes asking for health, money, love, success or whatever they hope Santa will deliver.

Thirty workers took 20 days to construct the buildings, said Zhang Yan, manager of Harbin Human Resources Cultural Propagation Company.

"We created the design ourselves, incorporating Finnish elements we researched online," Zhang said.

The Christmas Village is the first phase of Mohe's plans to market itself as a major tourism destination. It is planning a ski resort, Christmas museum, chapel for weddings, hotel and a shopping street.

By Tiffany Tan, China Daily
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