Stepping into Pacific Place’s Santa Hall, a colourfully decorated house in the middle of the shopping centre in Hong Kong’s Admiralty area, domestic helper Richelda Quilanan and three other migrant women said they had not known what to expect. They were in for a treat. Inside what looked like Santa’s mailroom, an augmented reality (AR) Santa Claus magically appeared on a screen and sat right next to the four women seated on a sofa. The women smiled as they posed for photos with Santa. “I’ve never taken a picture with Santa before. It was wonderful. I feel so happy,” Quilanan said, beaming with joy as she explained that Santa could only be seen in big cities, not the rural area where she lived, in the Philippines. The women are among about 400 beneficiaries from seven charities that Pacific Place is treating to free photo shoots with its AR Santa this year. The domestic helpers are from the Bethune House Migrant Women’s Refuge, an emergency shelter for migrant women workers facing difficulties, such as abuse or sudden termination of their employment contract. The charity is one of 15 worthy causes receiving funding this year from Operation Santa Claus (OSC), which is celebrating its 35th anniversary. OSC is an annual fundraising initiative organised by the South China Morning Post and public broadcaster RTHK. Since 1988, it has raised HK$353 million to support the Hong Kong community through 323 charitable projects. Pacific Place has been collaborating with OSC since 2014. In past years, all proceeds from patrons’ purchases of Christmas activities at the mall, including taking photos with Santa, workshops and children’s activities were donated to OSC, but this holiday season, in addition to the financial help, it wanted to do something special because of the past three years of Covid-19 restrictions. It worked closely with OSC to invite the charities’ beneficiaries for an exclusive AR Santa photo-taking experience not open to the public, and for a tour of the mall’s many digital and immersive Christmas installations, which are available for everyone to experience. “This year, we want to celebrate that we’ve come out of a difficult period and reconnect with family and friends,” Pacific Place general manager Mark Celenk said. “After years of adapting to the ‘new normal’, we wish to bring joy and happiness to the community, especially during the season of giving … by extending our collaborations with OSC beyond donations, to create meaningful experiences for individuals and families in need.” Besides taking photos with the AR Santa, charity beneficiaries climbed on a sleigh to take more photos, joined the Reindeer Flight Academy, and mixed songs in the Christmas DJ booth. The other charities hosted by the mall were: OIWA Limited, The Boys’ & Girls’ Clubs Association of Hong Kong, St James’ Settlement, WeCareBill Foundation, Hong Kong Young Women’s Christian Association, and Love Care Station, a charity that helps special needs youth by training them to sell second-hand goods to raise money for NGOs. Pacific Place understood that capturing precious moments, such as taking photos with Santa Claus, meant a lot to people, Celenk said. Italian flair raises 6-figure sum for Hong Kong charities through annual fair Visitors can register online to take pictures with the in-person Santa. All proceeds from the photos and other for-purchase Christmas activities – such as making a wreath and a Bluetooth music box in the Christmas workshop – will be donated to OSC. Every Saturday at 3pm, there will be a Christmas parade that will feature hip hop music. Balloons will be handed out to visitors. The attractions are open from November 17 to January 2. “We intend to maintain our charity partnership with OSC next year and aim to bring more festive vibes to the needy in local communities,” Celenk said. For more information on this year’s OSC beneficiaries, please click here .