Since early December, social media users have been sharing a photo and video that they claim show restrictive Covid safety measures taking the fun out of Christmas celebrations in Europe. But the photo and video were taken out of context to produce fake news.
People sharing the photo claimed it showed children who had not been vaccinated being barred from entering a Christmas market in Germany. In reality, the photo was taken at a Christmas market in Romania that did not require children to have proof of Covid vaccination.
Social media users also shared a video, claiming it showed police arresting Santa Claus for not wearing a mask. In reality, police arrested the man dressed as Santa because he was part of an unauthorised protest and had refused to show his papers.
A captionless photo showing children standing on the other side of a fence from a person dressed as Santa Claus was posted on Twitter on December 6 by a German-language account.
Another Twitter account, which has since been suspended, also shared the photo on December 12 with a caption in English claiming it showed unvaccinated children being barred from a Christmas market in Germany. Though the photo has been removed, reactions decrying the alleged mistreatment of unvaccinated children remain.
But German fact-checking outlet Correctiv ran the photo through a reverse image search (click here to find out how). They pulled up this article from the Romanian news site Express de Banat, which refers to the Facebook account that first posted the photo on December 8.
That Facebook post says that the photo was taken on Liberty Square in Timișoara, a town in western Romania.
Local media in Timișoara reported that only people who have a vaccination card were allowed to attend the Christmas market in Liberty Square.
However, the children in the photo are less than 12 years old. In Romania, children under 6 do not need a vaccination pass, according to the US Embassy in Romania. Unvaccinated children between the age of 6 and 12 can also participate in certain events if they show proof of a negative Covid-19 test.
In Germany, children do not need to be vaccinated to attend Christmas markets. For example, in Berlin’s Christmas Market, children under the age of 18 have to provide a negative test result, but children under 6 do not even need to take a test.
Santa wasn’t arrested for going maskless
A second video shows police arresting a man dressed up as Santa Claus. "Armed German police arrest Father Christmas in the middle of the street because he isn’t wearing a mask,” reads this Tweet by French far-right politician Florian Philippot.
In reality, the video has been taken out of context.
A reverse image search produces a better-quality version of the video on a little-known German-language blog, which refers to the arrest of a “Father Christmas” in Stralsund, a town in northeastern Germany.
“Identify yourself! You are walking around without a mask,” says one of the police officers to the man dressed up as Santa.
"Why wear one? I’m Santa,” the man says.
“Show your identity card,” the police demand.
At 0’25, it is becomes clear that the man dressed as Santa is wearing a sign that reads “2G", a reference to health restrictions in Germany.
In a statement released on December 14, the Stralsund police confirmed that the man was one of 65 people who gathered for a non-authorised rally near the market to protest health restrictions meant to slow the spread of Covid-19.
“The 47-year-old from Stralsund was obviously an actor in the gathering. He was not used as Santa Claus at the Christmas market there,” the statement says.
Police asked for the details of the participants because under local law, “a non-registered gathering constitutes a criminal offence", according to the statement. The man dressed up as Santa refused to provide his identity papers and was arrested.
The police added that the man was suspected of previous violations linked to protests against Covid health and safety measures.
Several media outlets confirmed that the incident occured in Stralsund, Germany, and that the man was detained because he refused to produce his identity papers.