Saint Nicholas — one man, one mission

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Out and about with staff and miter

Saint Nicholas was a 4th century bishop who lived in Myra, a town in what is today Turkey. According to legend, this son of rich parents gave his entire wealth to the poor. This made him the forerunner of Father Christmas or Santa Claus and Germany's Christ Child, as well as becoming a symbol of the Christmas season.

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Of, and for the masses

Saint Nicholas was used by a cola company in 1931 in the United States to advertise their beverage, showing him in what has become the accepted attire of all red with white trimmings. These days those outfits must be flexible enough to withstand sporting activities, like the Father Christmas race in Michendorf in the German state of Brandenburg.

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Cold feet are not a problem!

At the annual global conference of Father Christmases in the Danish capital Copenhagen, hundreds of men and more recently an increasing number of women, from 15 nations ready themselves for the busy and stressful festive season. A bracing dip in the water can only help boost energy.

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Diving under

Today's St. Nicholas also take on additional special missions — like delivering food for the fish in the 250,000 liter (66,000 US gallon) aquarium in the Multimar Waddensea Forum in Schleswig-Holstein's Tönning.

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Edible production line Santas

Edible Santas have been around since 1820. The first examples were made by hand and consisted entirely of chocolate. These days they are made in a mold and are usually hollow. Germany produces some 150 million such chocolate Father Christmases every year.

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Good cop, bad cop

In many Catholic areas of Europe, benevolent Saint Nicholas is accompanied by his threatening servant. In Germany he is called Knecht Ruprecht, who with his rod and sack of coals threatens to thrash misbehaving children. In France he is known as Père Fouettard, in the Netherlands as Zwarte Piet, in Switzerland as Schmutzli and in Austria and southern Germany he is called Krampus.

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With a great following

In southern Germany the Buttnmandl procession involves St. Nicholas being followed by wild creatures covered in furs and straw ringing bells and yelling as he goes from house to house to chase away any bad spirits. This heathen ritual in the Berchtesgaden area was gradually integrated into Christian traditions, and has become a popular spectacle on December 5th and 6th.

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A friendly exchange

St Nicholas can be flexible when it comes to mode of transport. On a bike in Germany, on a sligh drawn by reindeer in Finland or on the back of a dromedary like here at the Red Sea in Egypt — and thanks to his white beard, fur trimmed coat and hat he is also recognized in Muslim countries.

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Under the radar - well mostly

This photo from a speed camera shows St. Nicholas and his chauffeur in a bit of a hurry. The car was traveling 10 km (6 miles) faster than the speed limit of 50 kilometers per hour. In view of the time pressures that "Saint Nicholas" is under authorities let him off with a warning rather than a hefty fine.

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High-flyer

How St. Nicholas or Santa Claus manages to be in lots of different places around the world at the same time will remain a mystery. But one thing is known that he will return next year and stay on course when flying across the sky, like here over Lake Geneva.

For centuries his mission has been holy — on December 6, St. Nicholas comes to Europe to bring sweet treats to all the good children. No path is too far, and he even manages to be everywhere at the same time.