Santa's many faces
Santa Claus, or 'The Christmas Man,' as he's known in Germany, comes in all shapes and sizes around the world. Even Buddhist and Hindu countries have a soft spot for jolly old Saint Nick.
No summer wardrobe?
In Wellington, New Zealand, Santa works up a sweat during the Waitomo District Christmas Parade in mid-December, where temperatures reached 21 Celsius (70 Fahrenheit) - a far cry from the North Pole's average, -34 Celsius.
Runners dressed in Father Christmas costumes take part in the annual five-kilometer Santa Dash in Liverpool, England. Although red and white are true to St. Nick's colors, many Everton FC soccer fans wear a blue suit instead, because red and white represent their rivals, Liverpool FC.
Sinterklaas, the Dutch Santa Claus, has a contentious helper in the Netherlands. "Zwarte Piet" or Black Pete has a painted black face, bright red-colored lips and a curly Afro wig. While some Dutch children treasure the kind-hearted helper for his gifts and pranks, the UN has criticized the tradition as "racist" and a "throwback to slavery."
When Santa visits Hamburg, it's a tradition that he tosses a tree onto every ship in the harbor. The crews decorate their green gift with lights and proudly display it on deck during the holidays.
While we're pondering whether we've been naughty or nice, we can nibble on one of the season's most popular chocolate figurines: Santa, himself.
Keeping the 'saint' in St. Nick
For Germans, there are two separate figures: St. Nicholas and the suspiciously Santa-like Christmas Man (Weihnachtsmann). Here, members of the Nicholas Guild in Friedrichshafen dress as the revered saint and visit clubs and charities to preserve St. Nick's religious legacy. Bishop Nikolaos of Myra, the inspiration behind today's Santa Claus, was born in the third century in what is now Turkey.
Even Papa Noel needs a beach vacation every now and then, when he gets tired of the cold. Sand artist Sudarshan Pattnaik unveiled this 100-foot long sculpture on Christmas Eve in 2006 at the holy Hindu location, Puri, in India.
Fans in high places
Even Chancellor Angela Merkel's wax model can't escape the festivities, decked out in North Pole haute couture at Madame Tussauds in Berlin. During the holiday season, she resides in a room full of Christmas decorations.
East meets West
Although predominantly for commercial - not religious - purposes, Christmas is welcomed in China with colorful lights, holiday displays and Santas posing for portraits. Here, a restaurant staff member disguised as Santa Claus coasts the streets on a motorbike, handing out gifts and coupons to onlookers.
Ho, ho, no?
German-based, Irish-American singer Maite Kelly and Munich's Bishop Engelbert Siebler once set up post in Munich's pedestrian zone to distribute chocolate Santas to passersby - in protest. "To me Santa Claus is pure superficiality, pure commercialization," said the singer. For the record, the logo above also appears on the Nicholas Guild's homepage.
Trunks full of gifts
In Thailand it would seem that elephants - not reindeer - are Santa's preferred mode of transport. Although Buddhism is the dominant religion in Thailand, an elephant parade is hosted annually by the city of Ayutthaya in honor of the Christian holiday.
Kris Kringle in the flesh
For the past 20 years, Willi Dahmen has been donning his Santa suit to act the part at the local Christmas market and even for private events. The 61-year-old in Celle, Germany, says his beard is the real deal.