German Priest Aims to Knock Off Santa -- or, at Least Decommercialize Him

Santa's a cheap American knockoff?

Don't you believe it, Virginia!

But that's exactly what a German Catholic priest is preaching in his international campaign to do away with Father Christmas, claiming his legend promotes the commercialization 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 told Agence France Press (AFP).

Saint Nicholas is an actual historical figure, believed to have lived in the fourth century in what today is Turkey.

As legend goes, Nicholas saved three girls from being sold into prostitution by their destitute father by leaving three lumps of gold in their room while they were sleeping.

But Schommer claims Saint Nicholas has been upstaged by a Santa Claus created in the 1930s by clever advertising execs at Coca Cola.

Commercial Santa, he claims, has cheapened Christmas by reducing a celebration of Christian values to a month-long shop, shop, shop 'til you drop economic event.

But, the AFP reports these Santa haters are no Bah-Humbug curmudgeons.

"We of course are doing the whole thing with a twinkle in our eyes — we are not trying to take away Santa from anyone, but we want to make clear who the original Father Christmas is," Schommer told the news service.

"Nicholas promoted values such as solidarity, loving thy neighbour, sharing what you have and the bushy-bearded Santa does just the opposite — he's a pack horse of consumer society, nothing more."

German Catholics are not the only ones down on the Ho-Ho-Ho version of Saint Nicholas.

The Lutheran Church put out a pro-Nicholas manifesto this month titled "How a Holy Legend Turned Into an Advertising Gag," AFP reports.

But Santa says he's not on the ropes yet.

"You can't have Christmas without Santa!" Peter Georgi, 66, told AFP on a break from playing Father Christmas at Berlin's top department store KaDeWe.

The white-bearded Georgi with a mischievous smile said he had learned in his eight years on the job that even adults seemed to feel a little magic in his presence.

"Santa is not here trying to pull money out of people's pockets. Children, adults and even old people come especially to see me every year. Santa will always be a part of the joy of the holidays."