Swire group not only flew in a Santa Claus from the United States for its seasonal events at Pacific Place's mall but also wrote a HK$150,000 cheque for Operation Santa Claus. The group, which comprises 36 companies with 50,000 employees, has been one of the most enduring supporters of the annual charity drive - 15 years and going strong. 'Operation Santa Claus is an umbrella [for 13 beneficiaries this year] so that's why the group contributes to it,' said Hunter Crawford, a 30-year Swire executive who earlier this month became its staff director. He said that next year and beyond, 'the established donors of Operation Santa Claus are not going to stop their commitment. It is an extremely worthwhile and wholesome activity so I think Operation Santa Claus will continue to get the support'. A philanthropists' trust within John Swire & Sons decides which charities the group will donate to each year. 'We are very honoured and pleased to be a supporter,' Mr Crawford said. The hong recognised that the global financial crisis could get worse next year so there would be a greater need for companies to do their bit for people less well off. 'In Swire we are desperately concerned about what is going to happen in the next few months, so every little bit that we can do to help in the community we feel is the right thing to do,' Mr Crawford said. Santa Claus, aka Ricky Baldwin, flew in from Ohio with Mrs Santa, swapping a White Christmas there for their first visit to an unusually chilly Hong Kong. The community theatre actor used to play 'fun-loving musical characters'. Eight years ago, he had a 'eureka moment' when he auditioned for the play Miracle on 34th Street, based on the timeless 1947 film about 'a nice old man who claims to be Santa Claus but is institutionalised as insane, and a young lawyer who decides to defend him by arguing in court that he is the real thing'. 'I got the part of Kris Kringle,' he said, referring to the lead character who claims to be Santa Claus. 'And I'm telling you it changed my life. I became Santa Claus. Ho, ho, ho.' Santa Claus will welcome visitors at his music box at Santa's Mansion in Garden Court until tomorrow. Broadway-style musical performances are also being shown. Mr Crawford said Swire's various subsidiaries had been holding Christmas parties, including one today, even if they were scaled-back versions compared to those during better times. 'It is very important [for staff morale] to get together,' he said. In the group's Christmas message for Operation Santa Claus, he said: 'I would like to give the Swire group's best wishes to Operation Santa Claus and everybody who's involved, and hope they have a great year next year.' Organised by the South China Morning Post and RTHK, Operation Santa Claus, now in its 21st year, will aid 13 groups. Part of the funds will also go to the SCMP Homes for Hope project to help victims of the Sichuan earthquake rebuild their homes.