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Vienna kindergartens shut their doors on St. Nicholas

A ban on St. Nicholas at Vienna's kindergartens is taking some of the ho-ho-ho out of the holidays for tens of thousands of tots this year.

And it's creating a political ruckus, with opposition parties accusing City Hall of kowtowing to a growing Muslim population by showing Europe's Santa the kindergarten door.

Municipal officials insist their decision is prompted more by psychology than political correctness.

Instead of joy, the sight of a strange bearded figure at the door evokes fear in most kids, they argue.

Kids grow up with traditional Dec. 6 visits from St. Nicholas or Nikolo - a bearded, mitered figure in bishop's garb who hands out sweets to good girls and boys. Christmas is reserved for the Christkind or Christ Child, who sneaks into homes and deposits presents under the tree and sometimes brings the tree itself.

As for naughty kids, there is St. Nick's sidekick, who in Austria goes under the name of Krampus - a hairy behorned figure who gives them lumps of coal.

But suggesting St. Nick is as scary as Krampus is just plain dumb, argue opponents of the policy.

For child psychiatrist Max Friedrich, the ban is total nonsense. He described Nicholas as a "positive figure who encourages and rewards children."

Councilwoman Grete Laska says both Krampus and St. Nick "create fear (and) have no place" in kindergartens, particularly when parents and schools encourage children not to accept gifts from strangers. The kindergartens can hold Christmas parties - but without St. Nick.

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