/ 24 December 2007

A Christmas right up Scrooge’s alley

Whether it’s drug dealers shooting at Santa in Rio, a father selling off a present to punish his son in Canada, or Manila authorities banning carols, Scrooge would have a field day this Christmas.

The legendary miser’s unseasonal spirit lived on in the form of suspected drug dealers in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro, who fired gunshots at a helicopter flying Santa Claus into a slum to deliver presents to poor children.

Police said no one was injured in the shooting, which they blamed on warring drug traffickers, but at least two bullet holes were found on the helicopter.

Fortunately, after the pilot fled back to the heliport, the man dressed as Santa hopped into a car to head back to the Baixa do Sapateiro favela, or slum neighbourhood, for the Christmas party.

Gift sold

Meanwhile, a dad in Montreal, Canada, spent weeks searching for the perfect present for his son, only to sell it on online auction site eBay after finding the 15-year-old smoking a joint with a couple of friends.

The schoolteacher spent two weeks searching for the Guitar Hero III video game for the Nintendo Wii game board.

”So I was so relieved in that I had finally got the Holy Grail of Christmas presents pretty much just in the nick of time. I couldn’t wait to spread the jubilance to my son,” he wrote on the eBay website. ”Then, yesterday, I came home from work early and what do I find? My innocent little boy smoking pot in the back yard with two of his delinquent friends.”

The man, who kept his identity private, said he sold the $90 video game to punish his son and discourage him from smoking dope — pocketing the $9 100 a buyer paid for it in the process.

No carolling

Meanwhile in the Philippines, authorities in the capital, Manila, have banned Christmas-carol singers from the streets, apparently for safety reasons, and warned they would round up any who flouted the new rule.

”The plan, controversial as it might be, is not done out of whim but rather for the safety of the children and the motorists,” said Bayani Fernando, who chairs the city body that oversees traffic and road safety.

Singers, including children from surrounding slums, have been converging on major Manila street intersections, knocking on vehicle windows for cash while carolling. Last year a child died after being run over by a speeding truck.

Fernando said groups of carol singers would still be able to go from house to house in suburban areas where they would not affect road traffic.

”What we are against are those who dart across thoroughfares knocking on vehicle windows to beg for alms since this is a surefire way to get maimed or killed,” he said on radio in response to criticism.

But it was not all ”Bah, humbug” this year — the Travelodge hotel chain announced it was offering free accommodation this Christmas to all married couples called Joseph and Mary in Britain, Ireland and Spain.

It said husbands and wives providing proof of their identity would get a night’s stay on the house, but with more home comforts than the humble stable of the Christian nativity story.

”The phrase ‘no room at the inn’ is something that resonates with us in the hotel business,” said Travelodge operations director Jason Cotta.

The offer, appropriately, runs from Christmas Eve (December 24) to Twelfth Night (January 5). — Sapa-AFP