Ian Irvine: btw

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Get thee behind me, Santa. Curious news from Germany, where a group has launched a campaign to persuade people to turn their backs on Santa Claus and return to St Nicholas instead. Calling themselves the Santa-Free Zone, they have printed thousands of flyers and stickers and are distributing them in towns across the nation. The country's most famous newsreader, Peter Hahne, is championing their campaign: "St Nicholas's values are selflessness, charity, solidarity, giving and sharing. Santa Claus, on the other hand, is a product of a consumer society. He is a symbol of shopping and has got nothing to do with St Nicholas, who still teaches us today that giving does not make you poorer, but richer." Of course, it could be just another outbreak of anti-American feeling: these Santa-deniers are spreading the urban myth that the figure of Santa Claus was only created in 1931 to advertise Coca-Cola. (Definitely not true. Have a look on www.snopes.com for an entertaining rebuttal.)

* Elsewhere in the world, the tide also seems to be turning against the Big Red One. Police in east London are searching for a murderer who disguised himself with a white beard and red hat. A Santa Claus is facing the sack from a Dutch shopping centre after he smacked a young boy for pulling his beard. Peter Hendriks spanked the boy on the bottom in front of dozens of shoppers in the town of Rijswijk. And a recent survey by Ohio University has revealed that the age at which children discover the truth about Santa Claus is dropping. On average, twentysomethings lost their belief at seven and three-quarters; for their baby-boomer parents, it was eight and three-quarters. However Santa can take comfort from the fact that yesterday Paris Hilton admitted that she still believed in him at 17, "then a mean person told me it wasn't true."

* The personal ads in The London Review of Books have been running for seven years now and have become so famous for their eccentric humour that they're publishing an anthology of them next month. Current lonely hearts include, "I am the best kept secret in Paignton. Box 23/06", "I am not afraid to say what I feel. At this moment in time I feel anger, giddiness, and the urge to dress like a bear and forage at motorway hedgerows. Man, 38. Box 23/09" and "Shake hands with Dalkeith, Midlothian! Official greeter and face of Dalkeith Cheese Festival, 1974, seeks woman to 50 who is no stranger to failure, debt-consolidating mortgages and wool. Must enjoy beards and harbour contempt for any music that isn't Belgian jazz. Box 23/04". The magazine is running a singles night next month at its bookshop in Bloomsbury, offering wine, canapes and live classical Chinese music. The latest issue also carries a notice: "The London Review of Books is pleased to announce its first divorce resulting from a marriage that began in this column. What once was a desert is now but a wasteland. Don't say we didn't warn you."

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