St. Nick Ban Causes Stir in Vienna

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St. Nick, nein! A ban on St. Nicholas at Vienna's kindergartens is taking some of the ho-ho-ho out of the holidays for tens of thousands of tots this year. And it's creating a political ruckus, with opposition parties accusing City Hall of kowtowing to a growing Muslim population by showing Europe's Santa the kindergarten door.

Municipal officials insist their decision is prompted more by psychology than political correctness. Instead of joy, the sight of a strange bearded figure at the door evokes fear in most kids, they argue. And they point out that the policy on St. Nicholas is more than a decade old -- though they concede it is being enforced more rigorously than in the past.

While Santa rules in the far north, the jolly elf has little tradition in Austria and surrounding countries. As in past years, some booths at Vienna's main Christmas market are again plastered with stickers depicting Santa with a diagonal red bar across his fluffy white beard -- the work of a group in Austria, Switzerland and Germany that sees Santa as a symbol of the commercialization of Christmas and a threat to local traditions.

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