A group of German Catholics wants to do away with Santa Claus because of the figure's commercial hype and replace him with St Nicolas and the selfless giving they say he represents.

Even before shops fill with Santa-themed goodies, the Bonifatiuswerk of German Catholics - a Catholic aid organisation - has begun calling for ‘Santa Claus-free zones.’

The organisation sees Santa as ‘an invention of the advertising industry designed to boost sales’ and as ‘a representative of consumer society’ who has little to do with the historical figure of St Nicolas.

Its website describes Nicolas, the patron saint of children, as ‘a helper in need who reminds us to be kind, to think of our neighbours, and to give the gift of happiness.’

The campaign is supported by several German celebrities.

‘Unlike Santa Claus, Nicolas wants to give children inner riches and not just encourage them to strive for material wealth,’ German TV presenter Nina Ruege was quoted saying.