The good, the ugly and the Grinch: 12 festive stories for 12 days of Christmas

Muhamad Hussain Shah, six, received Christmas gifts for the first time.
Muhamad Hussain Shah, six, received Christmas gifts for the first time.PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
The flash mob, a 15-strong amateur choir of foreign domestic workers, brought Yuletide cheer to Orchard Road.
The flash mob, a 15-strong amateur choir of foreign domestic workers, brought Yuletide cheer to Orchard Road.ST PHOTO: NIVASH JOYVIN

There is something about Christmas that brings out the good, the bad and the Grinch in people.

This season of giving has seen strangers posting Christmas cards to a terminally ill boy, store employees surprising a daily visitor with a game system of his own, and one mother buying her children some 300 presents.

Here are 12 Christmas stories this year that made the news, one for each day of the festive season.

1. Man steals Santa's van, jacket, bag and phone

A GoFundMe fund-raising page has been set up to raise money for Gary Senner's scheduled Santa appearances. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM GOFUNDME WEBSITE

The spirit of the Grinch struck on Dec 17 when a man allegedly robbed "Santa Claus" in Kansas state's Overland Park city.

Mr Gary Senner, 62, who has played Santa Claus for 40 years, was robbed of his van, his custom-made Santa jacket, a black toy bag and his phone.

He told The Kansas City Star in a report on Dec 18 that he had left his keys along with his coat in his van while grabbing coffee.

"It's pretty upsetting to say the least," Mr Senner said. "Now I have to replace my car. Now I have to go get a phone and I can't even play Santa because the major part of the costume I wear is gone."

A GoFundMe fund-raising page has been set up to raise money for his scheduled Santa appearances.

2. Kids give festive presents to peers who have less

In Singapore, a charity initiative by EtonHouse Community Fund on Dec 18 saw parents and their children giving shoeboxes of gifts to kids who are less privileged.

The event, which took place at Henderson Community Club, gathered 150 children, beneficiaries of the Henderson-Dawson Citizens' Consultative Committee's We Love Learning programme, for a Christmas celebration.

Mrs Gayatri Varma, 41, who packed four shoeboxes of stationery with her two children, said: "We encourage our children to realise that they are privileged and there are many others who may not have these opportunities. We want them to be aware that it is a good thing to give back to society."

3. Maid choir surprises Orchard Road shoppers with flash mob carolling

An amateur choir of foreign domestic workers took the festive spirit to shopping belt Orchard Road on Dec 18.

The flash mob trundled off a bus and burst into song on the pavement, starting outside Tang Plaza. They covered carols such as When A Child Is Born and Feliz Navidad, a Latin American Christmas song.

The event was organised by the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (Fast).

4. Boy with cancer gets more than 28,000 cards for Christmas

A five-year-old boy with terminal cancer has received more than 28,000 Christmas cards from well-wishers, according to a report by The Sun on Dec 16.

Bradley Lowery, who is from Blackhall Colliery village near Hartlepool town in Britain, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare aggressive cancer of the nervous system that mostly affects babies and young children, when he was two years old. He went into remission but relapsed in July this year (2016).

The Christmas card campaign was started by an Everton fan, and Bradley has received cards from around the world and even got to meet his soccer idol, Sunderland player Jermain Defoe.

5. Mother behind viral photo of 200 Christmas presents posts new one - with 300

In 2015, a woman who posted a photo of more than 200 presents she bought for her children was slammed online as being "materialistic".

Undeterred, she is back at it again this year, with even more gifts, the BBC said in a report on Dec 13.

Mother-of-three Emma Tapping, from British Crown dependency Isle of Man, on Nov 27 posted a photo on Facebook of her Christmas tree buried under a deluge of about 300 presents.

"Another year of hard graft, saving and planning. Another year of my family making me proud every day," she wrote. "They deserve a great Christmas. The haters will hate but nothing and no one will change how I do Christmas."

This time, most commenters wished her a Merry Christmas and even praised her gift-wrapping skills.

6. Best Buy employees give Wii U as Christmas gift to teen who visited the store to play it

A teenager who visited a Best Buy store near New York every day to play games on the store's Nintendo Wii U system was given a set by staff who noticed his love of gaming.

Mr Rahiem Storr, a manager at the Valley Stream branch, told CNN in a report on Dec 12 that employees including Kenneth Fernandez and Pal Ndojia decided to purchase the Wii U for the teenager out of their own pockets after seeing him visit daily to use it.

They surprised the teenager with the game system, which costs US$300 (S$434) on Best Buy's site, while he was playing the Wii U in the store as usual.

A video of the gift presentation on YouTube has been viewed more than two million times.

"On behalf of all of us here at Best Buy, we got you a Wii U so you don't have to come here every day and play," an employee says in the video.

"This is something we did for you. Everyone here that you see, we all got together and chipped in so you could have it."

The teenager is shown reacting with disbelief as he accepts the gift.

7. Sick boy gets wish fulfilled, dies in Santa's arms

A terminally ill five-year-old boy got his Christmas wish to see Santa, before dying in Saint Nick's arms several weeks ago.

A nurse from the hospital he was warded at in Tennessee called Mr Eric Schmitt-Matzen, 60, who regularly plays Santa Claus for the holiday season, saying a sick boy wanted to see him.

Mr Schmitt-Matzen rushed to the hospital's intensive-care unit and spoke to the boy, helping him unwrap his present, The Sun reported.

He told the Knoxville News Sentinel in a report on Dec 12 that the boy said: "They say I'm gonna die. How can I tell when I get to where I'm going?"

In reply, "Santa" told him: "When you get there, you tell 'em you're Santa's Number One elf, and I know they'll let you in."

The boy died in his arms shortly after.

But the heartwarming story may not be all that it seems - efforts to verify the story proved futile, although news outlets like the Knoxville News Sentinel and The Washington Post are unable to prove that it is a hoax, either.

8. The Grinch that stole Venezuela's toys

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro and consumer protection agency were dubbed "The Grinch that stole Christmas" after the agency seized nearly four million toys in early December from a toy distributor that was suspected of inflating prices for Christmas.

A total of 3,821,926 toys were confiscated from two warehouses, after the agency accused distributor Kreisel-Venezula of stockpiling toys and reselling them at a margin of up to 50,000 per cent, the BBC reported on Dec 10.

The move meant many families were deprived of toys this holiday season, CNN reported on Dec 11.

9. Christmas comes to Singapore - on a train

Singapore may not have snow or reindeer, and it is too hot to dress up as Santa Claus, but Singaporeans got a taste of Christmas when the Land Transport Authority unveiled its Christmas-themed train on Dec 8.

The train, done up in ice-blue and silver and with snowflake patterns, will run on the North-East Line till Dec 31.

For the first time, Dhoby Ghaut MRT station also had its concourse decorated for a festive feel.

10. Reindeer are growing smaller

A herd of reindeer near the village of Dikanaess in Sweden.PHOTO: AFP

Rudolph may be going on a (forced) diet - researchers in early December warned that reindeer are shrinking.

Over the past 16 years, the weight of adult reindeer in Svalbard in the Norwegian Arctic has dropped by 12 per cent, likely due to global warming, said study findings presented to a meeting at the British Ecological Society (BES) in Liverpool.

This means reindeer born in 2010 weighed about 48kg by adulthood, while those born in 1994 weighed 55kg.

"Twelve per cent may not sound very much, but given how important body weight is to reproduction and survival, it's potentially huge," study leader Steve Albon of the James Hutton Institute in Scotland, told AFP.

The cause for the weight loss? Climate change, according to Dr Albon and his fellow researchers.

A rise in land surface temperatures meant warmer winters and more rain, which freezes on snow and prevents reindeer from getting to lichen, their food source.

A study earlier this year pointed to 61,000 reindeer starving to death on the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia in the winter of 2013-2014 due to a "rain-on-snow" event as described in the new research.

11. Canada's 'ugliest Christmas tree'

Christmas trees often delight onlookers with their glitzy decorations and glowing lights, but to many in Canada's Montreal city, a tree that was put up in early December was an eyesore.

The tree, which was envisioned as one bigger and grander than the famous one at New York's Rockefeller Centre, was supposed to celebrate Montreal's coming 375th anniversary.

But it has been criticised for being too skinny, with missing branches and having a crooked trunk, reports in early December said.

"It's quite sad, really," Ms Michaela van den Berg, a visitor from England whose husband compared the tree to a matchstick, told the New York Times. "Maybe it's a joke."

The tree has inspired parody Twitter accounts including @UglyTreeMTL, which describes itself thus: "Voted Canada's ugliest Christmas tree; Beautiful on the side; Steadfast optimist; Tall and gorgeous (imo)".

12. Secret Santa pays off over 40 students' lunch bills in Pennsylvania school

A "secret Santa" dropped by at a school in western Pennyslvania and paid for the outstanding lunch bills of more than 40 students.

Nearly half the children at the H.W. Good Elementary school come from families with financial struggles.

The stranger visited the school on Dec 7 and wrote a cheque for US$864 (S$1,236) to settle the outstanding lunch balances, and also offered to foot the bill for one child's lunches for the rest of the school year.

SOURCES: AFP, BBC, CNN, Knoxville News Sentinel, NYT, The Kansas City Star, The Sun, The Washington Post