HARBIN, China (Reuters) - China's freezing northern city of Harbin is building what organizers say is the world's largest Santa Claus ice sculpture.
The giant Father Christmas, 160 meters (525 ft) long and 24 meters high, centers on an enormous face of Father Christmas, complete with flowing beard and hat.
Its huge size and unseasonably warm temperatures have made the job especially challenging, said Tang Guangjun, one of the sculptors.
"It is even bigger and higher than last year's, and more difficult. The weather swings between warm and cold, so it becomes very wet and slippery on the ice. It is very dangerous for us," he told Reuters Television.
Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang province on the edge of Siberia, is one of China's coldest places. Winter temperatures can drop to below minus 35 degrees Celsius (- 31 F).
Every year the city plays host to a world-renowned ice festival. But the effects of global warming are taking a toll as the snow and ice now melt more rapidly than in the past.
Organizers said they had to artificially make snow for the Santa Claus sculpture.
Still, the sculpture has attracted thousands of tourists from all over the country who want to enjoy a white Christmas despite worries over the economic downturn.
Many said such tourism could help to boost the economy.
"It can stimulate the economy and consumption. When people feel happier, they will want to spend more, so it will lift the economy of the city and even the country," said Li Qingsheng, a tourist from Beijing.
Officials in Harbin remained optimistic about the tourist outlook for the winter.
An estimated 800,000 tourists, 90 per cent of them Chinese, were expected to visit the ice festival, said Jia Yan, director of the local tourism bureau.
The festival traditionally runs from mid-December to early February.
(Reporting by Reuters Television; Writing by Ben Blanchard)
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