The bizarre abounds at Christmas

Chubby British children are reaching for fruit and vegetables this Christmas while Japanese shoppers are being tempted by the ultimate treat, a Christmas cake decorated with diamonds.

As for Father Christmas, he is gallivanting happily in cyberspace but faces a tough time down on earth as children tug his beard, sneeze all over him and wet his lap.

Cash tills may be ringing on the internet but in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, festive cheer is in short supply.

With a week to go, Christmas offers its usual diet of weird and wonderful tales around the world and 2006 is no exception.

With bad diet and sloth pushing up obesity rates in England, a self-help group of chubby little Londoners is getting together for weekly classes on nutrition to help them resist the culinary excesses of Christmas.

In Osaka, opulence reigns supreme.

A department store has found a way to have your cake and eat it too by offering a 100 million yen cake festooned with 100 diamonds.

“The patissier who made it said he felt that chocolate and diamonds are what a woman most wants to receive,” said a store spokeswoman.

Santa and his reindeer certainly seem to be having a hectic time on the information superhighway.

Internet bloggers have given voice to a host of Santas who do everything from rail against tacky Christmas lights to confess their fondness for non-fat almond lattes.

They battle to lose weight, give updates on the latest reindeer babies and send YouTube clips to help with wishlists from the ever hopeful.

But filling Santa’s boots in cyberspace isn’t easy.

“You have to have a really distinctive voice and personality. . . to stand out,” said corporate blogging consultant Debbie Weil after reviewing the rash of Santa blogs.

But when it comes to a sack full of presents, Santa is more than likely to be coming through cyberspace than down a chimney.

Online retail sales are predicted to hit a record high in Europe’s three big economies, Germany, France and Britain.

And shopping mall and store Santas face a tough job trying to stay cheery.

They get routinely sneezed on, have to fend off children who pull their beards and mop up after those who frequently wet their laps, a US survey showed.

Bethlehem, once a magnet for tourists and religious pilgrims, offers a gloomy prospect as Israel ratchets up security.

Drink salesman Abu Khalil, who has hardly sold a miniature-sized bottle of scotch in the festive season, said: “It’s miserable. I have to say it is very bad.”

But the thirsty camel who crashed an Irish Christmas party had no complaints.

Staff at a riding school were forced to postpone festivities after Gus the camel, who was to star in the Christmas show, chomped his way through 200 mince pies and several cans of Guinness stout beer intended for their party.