In addition to delivering presents to millions of children around the world this year, Santa Claus also dove with sharks at a Malta aquarium, ran half-naked through Budapest, drove a neon bus outside São Paulo, and got a ticket for openly drinking on the streets of Manhattan.
The modern image of Santa — a jolly old man from the North Pole dressed in red and white — has firmly been adopted worldwide, even in some countries that have their own religious and cultural Santa-like figures.
Scenes from nearly every continent show how Santa has become integrated into global Christmas celebrations.
In Guatemala, a firefighter Santa rappelled down a bridge to give toys to children:
Dozens of Santas rowed along the Grand Canal in Venice:
Half-naked Santas ran for charity in chilly Budapest:
A diver dressed as Santa fed fish and sharks at Malta National Aquarium:
Someone dressed as “Sustaina Claus” made a cameo at the COP28 climate conference in Dubai earlier this month:
The Santa Run in Caracas, Venezuela featured at least one Grinch:
On the topic of holiday cheer being stolen, the infamous SantaCon in New York certainly led to more than a few public infractions:
In a city outside São Paulo, a local councilman dressed up a Santa and drove a bus lit up in neon lights:
And in Houston, Pancho Claus, known as the “Tex-Mex Santa” from the South Pole, made his annual appearance:
From Turkey to Italy to Coca-Cola cans
Saint Nicholas, the Christian bishop believed to have inspired the Santa Claus story, was born in what is now Turkey, and his remains are likely buried under a church in the port town of Bari, in southern Italy. It’s a point of pride for the local residents there. The city “is popular for three things: delicious mussels, pristine beaches and Saint Nicholas,” a Bari native who made a documentary about the subject told CNN. But they don’t connect much with the modern image of Santa, which is attributed largely to Coca-Cola marketing in the 1930s. “He’s our cult, and we don’t see him as Santa, just San Nicola,” the head of the Bari tourist office said.
Not even Santa can escape today’s geopolitical tensions
In the village of Sag Harbor on New York’s Long Island, plans for a longtime resident to dress up as Santa Claus turned controversial after several people objected to recent comments the man made about the Israel-Palestine conflict at an event hosted by a local synagogue. The chamber of commerce removed him from his post as Santa and found an anonymous Santa Claus who they said would bring fewer political distractions alongside his sack of toys. “I could see why people would not be comfortable with him as Santa, who is supposed to be this jolly fellow trying to keep peace in the world,” one synagogue member told The New York Times.