THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS. OPINIONS ARE MY OWN.
As millions of children await the arrival of Santa Claus in the next few days and hope to catch him dropping down chimneys and delivering presents on the night of December 24th, children in Germany will have already opened their gifts on the eve of Christmas thanks to the Christkind or Christkindl.
Every year, the angel-like being with blond hair and wings delivers presents to southern German families in the evening of December 24th. Even though Christkind literally translates into Christ Child, Germans do not think of the Christkind as baby Jesus but more of a young girl with blond curly hair who wears a long white and gold dress as well as a crown and has angel wings. In Nuremberg, the Christkind opens the Christmas season at its annual Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) by reciting a poem and just like Santa, visits malls across the U.S., in Germany the Christkind takes pictures with the children at Christmas markets. It also receives letters with gift requests which children leave on the windowsill at the beginning of or during Advent.
The story of the Christkind goes back to the 1600s, to the time of Martin Luther. Martin Luther wanted to de-emphasize the Catholic Saints, and put the focus on Christ’s birthday. Before that time, children got gifts on December 6th, Saint Nicholas Day. Children would leave out their shoes overnight on the 5th, and in the morning would find them filled with treats if they were good… and coal if they were bad. While Martin Luther’s original intention was that the infant Jesus brings gifts, over time, the image of a baby bringing gifts sort of transformed into an angelic figure with golden hair topped with a crown and golden wings.
Growing up in my home in the northern part of Germany, we were very familiar with the Christkind but it was still Santa Claus or Weihnachtsmann who would deliver the presents. Weihnachtsmann or Christmas man didn’t arrive through the chimney though but rather slipped in and out just long enough to leave the gifts and before any children could catch a glimpse of him. He would leave gifts for the well-behaved children and punish those who were bad. I remember my dad would always take my brother and I to go look for the Weihnachtsmann around our neighborhood after we got all dressed up on Christmas Eve, while my mom stayed home to help the Weihnachtsmann with putting the presents under the tree. After returning home we would wait in our bedroom, most of the time peeking out the almost closed door in hopes to catch a glimpse. Then my mom would let us know that Santa Claus had come and had left us our gifts. We would all stand in front of the Christmas tree, the room bathed in candlelight and soft Christmas music playing in the background. It was truly magical! And then around 5 pm it was finally time for Bescherung or opening gifts. I still remember like it was yesterday that one year on our stroll through the neighborhood with my dad, we actually saw a Weihnachtsmann walk from door to door. It made for one magical and unforgettable Christmas that year.