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December 3, 2012

Christmas approaches

The appearance of multiple simultaneous Santa Clauses is a sure sign that mankind's most widely recognized and commercialized religious holiday is near. It's also a sign that the holiday is celebrated by many more people than just faithful Christians, for better or worse. From the traditional Christmas markets in Germany to elfin divers feeding dolphins in Japan to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem where it all began, Christmas is observed worldwide for commercial, irreverent, and religious reasons. Gathered here are images of people as they herald the advance of an entire season built, loosely or faithfully, around the birth of Jesus Christ. -- Lane Turner (37 photos total)

German bicycle designer Didi Senft, known during the Tour de France as "El Diabolo", presents his latest Christmas-themed construction in Storkow, Germany on November 29, 2012. (Patrick Pleul/AFP/Getty Images)

A diver dressed as Santa Claus swims with a dolphin at Hakkeijima Sea Paradise in Yokohama on November 27, 2012. (Yuriko Nakao/Reuters) #

Workers fill the beard of a helium balloon in the shape of Santa Claus ahead of the Thanksgiving parade in New York on November 21, 2012. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters) #

Volunteer Santas are reflected in a fountain during their 110th annual Sidewalk Santa Parade in New York on November 23, 2012. The donations they raise are used for a holiday food voucher program for needy residents. (Richard Drew/Associated Press) #

Finished hand-made, wooden christmas figures are displayed at the Seiffener Volkskunst Christmas decorations factory on November 20, 2012 in Seiffen, Germany. Seiffen is home to a number of workshops that specialize in hand-painted wooden Christmas decorations and carvings. (Joern Haufe/Getty Images) #

The Rockettes dancers perform on opening night of the 2012 Radio City Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall in New York on November 13, 2012. (Amanda Schwab/Starpix/Associated Press) #

Claire Robertson from Scottish Ballet poses dressed as the Good Snow Flake inside a lifesize snow globe during a promotion for their production of The Nutcracker on November 20, 2012 in Glasgow. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images) #

Shoppers walk through fake snow on Oxford Street during a traffic-free Christmas shopping day in central London on November 24, 2012. (Olivia Harris/Reuters) #

Booths offer traditional Thuringian handcrafts and sweets and a big Ferris wheel at the Christmas Fair in Erfurt, Germany on November 28, 2012. (Jens Meyer/Associated Press) #

The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is lit on November 28, 2012 in New York. (Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images) #

Shoppers walk on a snow-like carpet as they visit a Christmas home show on November 14, 2012 in London with over 400 exhibitors at the Earls Court exhibition centre. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images) #

Hundreds of people gather in the rain to attend the opening of the traditional Christmas Market on the Roemerberg square in Frankfurt on November 26, 2012. (Michael Probst/Associated Press) #

Amidst a fanfare ceremony with fireworks, the Christmas lights are switched on at Harrods department store in London on November 1, 2012. (Andrew Matthews/PA/Associated Press) #

Fireworks explode over the state Capitol following the lighting of the state Christmas tree on November 16, 2012, in Lansing, Mich. (Al Goldis/Associated Press) #

People enjoy Christmas LED lights that change colors in Tokyo's Shiodome on November 26, 2012. (Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images) #

Gardener Sue Dale inspects poinsettia plants prior to their shipment from the Ravensworth nursery near Richmond, England on November 13, 2012. The Nursery has grown 18,000 plants. (Nigel Roddis/Reuters) #

James Parker lifts a Christmas tree at Garrocher Tree Farm on November 10, 2012 in Creetown, Scotland. The tree grower won the title of Champion Christmas Tree Grower 2012 at the 14th Annual British Christmas Tree Growers' Association and will now deliver a sixteen foot six inch tree to take up residence outside 10 Downing Street. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images) #

Abraham Plaza (left) and Eduardo Rosales drag a Christmas tree through a field at the Omni Farm in West Jefferson, N.C. on November 17, 2012. Crews at the farm will harvest nearly 20,000 Christmas trees this season. North Carolina has 1,500 Christmas tree growers with nearly 50 million Fraser Fir Christmas trees on over 35,000 acres. (Chris Keane/Reuters) #

Joe Balku, who donated the tree, drives a stake into the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree before workers stood it up on November 14, 2012 in New York City. The tree, an 80-year old Norway Spruce, weighs approximately 10 tons and measures 80 feet tall. (John Moore/Getty Images) #

Marching band members attend the 2012 Hollywood Christmas Parade in Los Angeles on November 25, 2012. (Phil McCarten/Reuters) #

A believer visits the Church of the Nativity, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, at the beginning of the Christmas season in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on November 24, 2012. (Marko Djurica/Reuters) #

A child looks at a christmas-themed shop display on November 28, 2012, in Paris. (Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images) #

Carly Serepetti checks out the decorated Christmas trees on display in Dearborn, Mich. on November 25, 2012. (David Guralnick/Detroit News/Associated Press) #

A woman poses for a photograph at a Lego Christmas attraction set up outside a shopping mall in Hong Kong on November 22, 2012. (Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images) #

A girl touches a Christmas tree made out of over 2000 glass baubles on the main street of Valletta, Malta on November 28, 2012. (Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters) #

An employee places a newly painted glass Christmas and New Year decoration in a drying rack at the "Biryusinka" toy factory in Russia's Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk on November 27, 2012. The factory, founded in 1942, produces decorative glass spheres, which can be found on Christmas trees all over the country and in Moscow's Kremlin in particular, during the festive season. (Ilya Naymushin/Reuters) #

Artists join in a show at Strasbourg's Christmas market, one of the largest and oldest French Christmas markets, on November 24, 2012 in Strasbourg, France. With over 300 market chalets, Strasbourg attracts over 1.6 million visitors during the Christmas season. (Patrick Hertzog/AFP/Getty Images) #

A Japanese woman dressed as a reindeer poses for a picture before the start of the Santa Claus Winter Games in Gallivare, above the polar circle in northern Sweden on November 17, 2012. Santas from all over the world gather for the games. (Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images) #

A postal employee dressed as Santa Claus displays letters as he poses for the opening day of the Santa Claus secretariat in Libourne post office in France on November 6, 2012. Since 1962, they have operated as one of the postal addresses for mail sent to Santa Claus written by children from 160 countries. 1,400,000 letters and 180,000 emails have received replies during the 2011 Christmas holiday season. (Regis Duvignau/Reuters) #

A Christmas teddy bear is wheeled on a trolley at the Steiff stuffed toy factory on November 23, 2012 in Giengen an der Brenz, Germany. Founded by seamstress Margarethe Steiff in 1880, Steiff has been making stuffed teddy bears since the early 20th century ever since her nephew Richard Steiff exhibited the first commercially produced teddy bear in Europe in 1903. (Thomas Niedermueller/Getty Images) #

Children run inside a pinata store in Managua on November 12, 2012. The government will distribute 250,000 pinatas to families across the country as part of Christmas celebrations(Oswaldo Rivas/Reuters) #

Chatsworth staff member Rosie Hodgkinson appears as Cinderella in the painted hall of Chatsworth as the stately home's Christmas events get underway on November 6, 2012 in Chatsworth, England. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images) #

Spectators look up at the stage at Macy's Herald Square Christmas Window Unveiling on November 15, 2012 in New York. (John Minchillo/AP Images for Macy’s) #

A chocolate Santa Claus waits in a display window of a boutique on November 11, 2012 in Munich. (Peter Kneffel//AFP/Getty Images) #

Workers prepare a tray of traditional 'frutas escarchada' at the Peces Mazapanes bakery on November 28, 2012 in Consuegra, Spain. The company opens annually during the three months leading up to Christmas, hiring 32 workers to produce traditional Spanish Christmas cakes called Mazapanes. (Denis Doyle/Getty Images) #

Adam Briere filled his cart with gifts for his children in a department store during Black Friday at a mall in Braintree, Mass. on November 23, 2012. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)#

A man kisses a woman as they look in the window of a jewelery shop on New Bond Street on November 26, 2012 in London. Shoppers spent an estimated £100m in the capital's West End over the weekend as Christmas approaches. (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)#