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Where Santa Claus is not welcome

Austrian defenders of Christkind take to the streets.

Sandro Galik, a 35-year-old from Vienna, opposes the anti-Santa camp, noting that Coca Cola did not invent the red and white Santa image, only popularised it. "What they are saying is only half true."

"I don't think Christkind is any less materialistic than Santa," Galik said. "It is still about presents, after all. And Santa brings people together. Children can believe in him whatever their background."

In some houses with a parent from outside Austria the two traditions could compete head-to-head. But Angela Schoepfer, a 33-year-old American living in Graz, said reconciling them is not a problem. "Having both of them adds to it. They come on different days."

Other outsiders with Austrian-born children have some reservations about keeping two myths alive before their children's eyes.

"It's very stressful to secretly set up the tree on the 24th," said 51-year-old American father of three Steve Weiss. Also stressful is taking the children away while the elaborate illusion is prepared.

"Austrians have explained to me what a magical feeling it is to return to the house and to hear the tinkling bell when Christkind arrives and seeing the tree and presents," said Weiss. "But, whichever tradition you follow, it is the magical illusion that makes it."

Knowing the strength of feeling the Christkind tradition can bring to some people might explain why Weiss's father, an emigre from Austria to America, often seemed strangely disappointed on Christmas Eve in New Jersey.