Santa who held up a bank to pay the elves (and other festive tales for our times)

Bad Santa

In Nashville, Tennessee, Bad Santa has struck, holding up a bank at gunpoint. Dressed seasonally in bright red with white gloves, white beard, red and white hat and dark sunglasses, he pulled a gun and threatened the bank staff that if they put dye bombs on the cash, to make it traceable, he would return and kill them.

As he stuffed his sack with banknotes he added: "Santa needs to pay his elves." He made his getaway in a grey car. Police described the suspect as white, with brown hair, and about six feet tall, but would not say how much was stolen. A police spokeswoman, Kristin Mumford, said it was the first time that a Santa uniform had been used to pull off a robbery in the Nashville area in recent years. The normal outfit for armed robbers is sweatshirts and sunglasses, or a Halloween mask.

But it has been known for robbers to dress as Santa in other parts of the US. The most notorious case was when a gang that included a man dressed as Santa shot and killed six people and injured several others during a robbery in Cisco, Texas, on 23 December 1927.

Santa's journey through cyberspace

But there is good news for Santa too. This year, children eagerly awaiting him can follow his progress online. The North American Aerospace Defence Command (Norad) will be tracking his sleigh using Google Earth. Children can also get updates via Twitter, if they feel they must. And in the back of a Brooklyn bar, a somewhat obsessed New York lecturer named Jamie Hook has been offering customers an illustrated talk which he claims is a philosophical proof that Santa exists.

Who's Killing Cock Robin?

The season is less festive for robins who have migrated to Cyprus for the winter. There, they are likely to be killed in their thousands by trappers to provide a local delicacy, ambelopoulia. The dish is illegal, but restaurants more or less openly offer it to customers. The RSPB says one of the places were this practice is commonest is in an area controlled by the British Army.

Getting the Swedish goat

For the third year running, arsonists have set fire to the giant straw goat that adorned the town square in Gavle, in northern Sweden. Weaving a giant goat has been a local tradition since the 1960s, when an advertising executive came up with the idea of endowing the city with a huge replica of the Christmas goat commonly found in Swedish homes. And since the 1960s, another tradition has been to destroy it, by fire, by ram raiding it, or by dragging it to the river.. The only clue left behind this year was a bottle of lighter fluid.

In a Faraway Country

In Prague, two dozen anti-Santa activists braved freezing temperatures to set a Santa figurine set him on fire. "We hope that one day this country will be void of Santa Claus," said the protest's organiser, Ondrej Soucek. "Santa is trivial," added Bara Novotna.

Why Santa got stuck up that chimney

Santa has had a bit of a bad press this week, and not just because he has been caught robbing a bank. The current edition of the British Medical Journal has issued him with a stinging rebuke for being a bad role model for children. He is obese, through lack of exercise, and his red face can be attributed to all those glasses of sherry he knocks back on his journey, Dr. Nathan Grills of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, reckons. The doctor also strongly suspects that as dawn approaches on Christmas Day, Santa must be drunk in charge of a sleigh. And even before the day itself, there are also those kisses he receives from children, which threaten to spread diseases.

A matter of Elf and Safety

Paul Douglas, an ex-marine, is lodging an appeal against his £100 fine for obstructing police. This follows a spectacle that horrified Christmas shoppers in Eastbourne last Christmas Eve, when police used pepper spray and batons to overpower an elf who had been selling mistletoe. A council enforcement officer had called the police because the elf, aka Mr Douglas, did not have a street trader's licence. Yesterday, the High Court adjourned the hearing until February. Judge Richard Hayward described the case as "a waste of money".

Campaign for Real Beards

Having your beard ripped off is painful, Santa complained after a drunken teenage girl was arrested in downtown Indianapolis in possession of a white, hairy trophy. That was a false beard glued on. Had it been real, he could have joined the 300-strong Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas, formed last year after a split within the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas.

Rudolph the stranded seal

Being that time of the year, the seal pup found stranded in a back garden in Kent has, inevitably, been christened Rudolph by the woman who spotted him. The pup is thought to have swum from the English Channel up the river Rother and then up a tiny stream, finishing 18 miles inland in Benenden, where 24-year-old Harriet Dwyer spotted it sliding around in the snow. Sergeant Ray Masters, of Kent Police, said: "In 28 years' service, it's one of the strangest calls I've had." The seal pup, which is about a year old, is now in the RSPCA's wildlife centre in Hastings.

They used to laugh and call him names

Eskimo, a reindeer in Edinburgh zoo, will be able to join in reindeer games for the first time after having a trapped testicle removed by keyhole surgery. The condition, which he had from birth, impeded his flow of testosterone. This made him submissive and caused other reindeer to bully him. This sort of surgery is very uncommon even for household pets, and is thought to be the first for a reindeer. The vet who performed it, Romain Pizzi, called it "a great advancement in veterinary surgery". Meanwhile, Hampshire firefighters kindly rescued two reindeer travelling in a trailer which became trapped in heavy snow near Basingstoke. They spent the night in the fire station.

Forget the deep and dreamless sleep

Oh little town of Bethlehem, how rowdy we see thee lie since Emmanuel Fleckenstein, guitar player for the Austrian rock band Cardiac Move, decided that the traditional carols sung in Manger Square were just too dull. He has organised a three-day rock concert during which nine foreign and four locals acts, including a Palestinian hip-hop group, a dance troupe, a guitar-playing priest from the US and a garage band from Germany, will perform on an outdoor stage at Bethlehem University. About 300 people turned up for the first concert on Tuesday. More were expected last night and this evening. Normally about 15,000 visitors crowd into Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. This will be the first time any of them have heard live rock 'n' roll there.

Let's not forget...

It's not much of a Christmas for Paul and Rachel Chandler, from Tunbridge Wells, who were taken hostage by Somali pirates more than eight weeks ago. But at least the pirate commander has said they will be allowed to observe Christmas as a Christian festival if they wish, and has promised them a Christmas dinner of chips, tomato, fish and beer – if available.