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Store Santa gets the heave-ho-ho-ho

Here's a holiday story only Scrooge can love: A Santa in an Australian department store says he was fired for saying "ho-ho-ho" and singing Christmas songs to children.

Here's a holiday story only Scrooge can love: A Santa in an Australian department store said this week he was fired for saying "ho-ho-ho" and singing Christmas songs to children.

Employment company Westaff, which supplies stores with red-robed, white-bearded Father Christmases, had earlier asked its Santas to say "ha ha ha" because the word "ho," which is American slang for whore, could offend women, media reported.

In the latest incident, the Cairns Post newspaper said 70-year-old John Oakes was fired Monday for saying "ho-ho-ho" and for singing the Christmas song "Jingle Bells."

"They're trying to kill the spirit of Christmas," said Oakes, a retired entertainer who has been a Santa for three years.

A Westaff spokesman told the newspaper Oakes had been dismissed because of his attitude, and not for his ho-ho-ho-ing.

If that's really the case, maybe the guy can find work if Hollywood decides to make a sequel to "Bad Santa."

What would Baby Jesus drink?
More holiday-business wackiness: An angry Italian priest has persuaded soft drinks company Red Bull to withdraw an advertisement setting its product in a Christmas nativity scene.

Father Marco Damanti wrote to the makers of the caffeinated energy drink denouncing the commercial as "a blasphemous act" and said Monday he had received a prompt reply promising to remove it from Italian television.

The ad depicted four wise men, instead of three, visiting Mary and the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. The fourth wise man bore a can of the soft drink.

"The image of the sacred family has been represented in a sacrilegious way," Father Damanti told the Corriere della Sera newspaper. "Whatever the ironic intentions of Red Bull, the advert pokes fun at the nativity, and at Christian sensitivity."

The priest also objected to the company's slogan, "Red Bull gives you wings," said by angels in the animated ad.

Maybe the company should instead consider a product placement in hell — plenty of thirsty people there.

Holy handhelds
Here's another business idea vexing the Vatican: If you are a Catholic looking for a saint in heaven to protect you, you no longer have to carry a small "holy card." You can get the image sent to your cell phone.

A company in Italy started offering the service this week but ran into opposition from some Catholic church leaders who think the idea is crass and commercial.

"We found a need and filled it," said Barbara Labate, who came up with the idea with her business partner in a cell-phone services company based in Milan.

Many taxis, private cars and trucks in Italy have a small picture of a saint — known as a "santino" or little saint — taped to the dashboard. Millions of Italians also keep wrinkled and worn "santini" in their wallets or handbags.

"We are merely catching up with the times. I think this will appeal to young people as well as grandmothers," Labate said.

The company started the service with 15 saints on offer and Labate said the hallowed catalogue will grow. The downloading service, done by sending a text message to a phone number, costs about $4.50 and is available on the company's Web site.

Nearly every shop near the Vatican sells paper "santini," but not everyone thinks cell phones and saints are a marriage made in heaven.

"This is in really bad taste," Bishop Lucio Soravito De Franceschi, a member of the Italian bishops conference committee for doctrinal matters, told the Turin newspaper La Stampa.

"It is a distortion of sacred things. ... Selling 'santini' for cell phones is horrifying," he said.

But Labate, who is Sicilian and recalls how her mother gave her a "santino" to put in her luggage when she traveled, rejected the criticism.

"We are simply offering a service to the faithful. We are doing this with the maximum respect, dignity and professionalism for believers," she said.

One popular saint in Italy is St. Christopher, the patron saint of safe travel. Other favorites are St. Lucy, patroness of good eyesight and St. Pio of Petralcina, the 20th century monk who was said to have had the wounds of Christ.

Labate has also put "possible future saints" in her initial catalogue. They include the late Pope John Paul, who has already been put on the road to sainthood, as well as the current pontiff, Pope Benedict.

As long they don't also start selling a speed-dial to God, we're fine with this.