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Backlash against Santa the brand

Berlin, Dec. 5 (Reuters): A German priest fed up with the growing commercialism of Christmas launched an anti-Santa Claus campaign today featuring bumper stickers that proclaim: “This is a Santa-free zone”.

Eckhard Bieger, a Roman Catholic priest in Frankfurt, said he is all for the holiday season, gift exchanges and family celebrations. But he believes the twinkly-eyed old man in a red costume is a commercial fraud.

“Santa Claus is a creation of the advertising industry and Coca-Cola to further commercial interests,” Bieger told Reuters.

“I don’t have anything against Christmas presents and don’t want to disappoint children,” he said. “My aim is to put St Nicholas back at the centre of attention rather than this Santa Claus figure, which is just an empty shell.”

Swedish-American artist Haddon Sundblom created the rosy-cheeked Santa used in Coca-Cola’s Christmas advertisements in 1931, and Bieger complained that it has been imitated ever since.

Christina Jacob, spokeswoman for Coke’s Germany subsidiary Coca-Cola GmbH, said the company was proud Sundblom had created the Santa Claus character the world knows today for the Coca-Cola ad campaigns used during the 1930s and 1940s.

“Sundblom used a cheery-faced Coca-Cola truck driver as his model for the portrait,” said Jacob, who had not heard of the Frankfurt priest’s campaign. “We’re naturally all proud that Coca-Cola is so closely entwined with the Christmas season.”

The modern Santa is a far cry from the severe St Nicholas who meted out punishment or gifts to children in continental Europe or the Old Christmas figure who aided drunken festivities of the English.

Bieger has distributed some 5,000 anti-Santa stickers. The stickers portray a Santa figure dressed in red with a circle and bar crossing the image — similar to the international signs for “nuclear-free zone” and “no smoking”.

Bieger said he wanted to revive a tradition in which St Nicholas went from house to house on the night of December 6 and put sweets into shoes of well-behaved children.

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