Activists in Germany fed up with the over-the-top commercialism of the Christmas season want Santa to retire. The "Santa-Free Zone" movement says Saint Nicholas, a fourth-century bishop, is a more appropriate symbol.
The real meaning of Christmas?
Armed with stickers of a Santa figure in a circle crossed through with a slash that they're passing out in shopping districts and at Christmas Markets, members of the anti-Santa campaign are for the sixth year in a row on a mission to convince others that the jolly fat man is a distraction from the real meaning of Christmas.
"The movement is intended to raise awareness of the fact that the consumption-oriented Santa launched by the Christmas gift industry has very little to do with the holy bishop Saint Nicholas," Christoph Schommer of the Catholic aid group Bonifatiuswerk, which is rallying the Santa opposition, told the AFP news agency.
The movement has been helped out, Schommer added, by the current financial crisis as people begin to rethink the focus on money and conspicuous consumption.
A real saint
Saint Nicholas was a bishop who lived in what is today's Turkey during the fourth century. The best-known story about him says he saved three girls from being sold into prostitution by their poor father by leaving three lumps of gold over three nights in their room while they were sleeping.
The gift-giving and commercialism has gotten out of control, say the Christmas reformers
While Catholics and Orthodox Christians in many parts of the world still celebrate Saint Nicholas day on December 6, during which children receive chocolates in their shoes they've left out overnight, the holiday has been largely overshadowed by the gift-giving extravaganza later in the month.
Santa Claus, or Father Christmas in England and Canada, is of a much more recent vintage than Nicholas. His appearance is thought to have been the invention of advertising men at Coca-Cola, who came up with the red-clad, bearded man for a campaign in the 1930s.
"We are not trying to take away Santa from anyone, but we want to make clear who the original Father Christmas is," Schommer said.
"Nicholas promoted values such as solidarity, loving thy neighbor, sharing what you have and Santa does just the opposite -- he's a pack horse of consumer society, nothing more."
Over the six years since the Santa-Free Zone movement has been underway, it has passed out 100,000 of its "No Santa" stickers, and this year launched a new website that lays out the differences between Santa and Saint Nicholas.
Schommer said the current financial crisis has increased interest in the movement, as people begin to rethink the shop-'til-you-drop mentality that has characterized the holiday for a long time.
"There are several interesting parallels with the financial crisis," he said.
"Investing in stocks can make your money disappear in a flash but the values that Saint Nicholas stood for -- that giving to others makes you richer and not poorer -- is something that endures."