German Advent word of the day: Das Christkind

This traditional German figure can be surprisingly controversial during Christmastime.

German Advent word of the day: Das Christkind
Photo: Depositphotos

What does it mean? 

Das Christkind, which literally translates to “Christ child,” is the traditional bringer of gifts on Christmas Eve in Germany. Also spelled Das Christkindl in certain dialects (including in Nuremberg), this figure has an interesting history and continues to be the topic of debate and national disagreement around the holidays.

Where did it come from? 

The 2019 Christkindl opens the Nuremberg Christmas market. Photo: DPA.

In the 16th century, Martin Luther declared the Christkind to be the bearer of Christmas gifts on December 24th in order to undermine the Catholic figure of Saint Nikolaus. Nikolaus is the patron saint of seafarers and children who was thought to bring the gifts on Nikolaustag, which occurs annually on December 6th.

Luther originally intended the Christkind to be a reference to the incarnation of Jesus as a baby, but it is usually depicted as a spirit-like child with blond hair and angel wings. Every two years, the city of Nuremberg in Bavaria selects a young woman to be the Christkindl and open the Christkindlsmarkt, the colloquial name for the annual Nuremberg Christmas market.

READ ALSO: What's the history behind Germany's beloved Christmas markets?

While families across Germany agree that St. Nikolaus fills kids’ shoes and stockings on December 6th, the debate about who brings the gifts on December 24th continues. 

Though used at first by Luther as a way to undermine the Catholic St. Nicholas tradition, the Christkind became increasingly popular in Catholic households over time because of its associations with Jesus. Over time, Catholic families adopted the tradition of the Christkind as well. 

However, there is a new regional divide as another Christmas figure has come on the scene: Der Weihnachtsmann, or Santa Claus, the red-suited, white-bearded figure we all know and love. 

A Weihnachtsmann holds gifts in Brandenburg. Photo: DPA.

Today, in mostly Catholic areas of the country (the south), children still expect gifts from the Christkind. In the largely Protestant north and east, the Weihnachtsmann is considered the bearer of Christmas gifts.

Many Catholics and those living in the more traditional south of Germany consider the Weihnachtsmann to represent the commercialization and secularization of Christmas with influence from American television and movies. 

Example Sentences

Das Christkindl in Nürnberg ist wunderschön! 

The Christkindl in Nuremberg is beautiful! 

Wer bringt die Weihnachtsgeschenke zu deiner Familie – der Weihnachtsmann oder das Christkind? 

Who brings the Christmas gifts to your family – Santa Claus or the Christ child? 

Wenn das Christkind die Geschenke für die Kinder hinterlassen hat, es wird gesagt, dass es eine kleine Glocke läutet.

When the Christkind has left the gifts for the children, it is said, that it rings a small bell.

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German word of the day: Belastung

Sometimes things can be too hard to carry - but keep this German word to hand and you may be able to lighten the load.

German word of the day: Belastung

Why do I need to know Belastung?

Because this versatile little word can be found everywhere, from articles about contaminated waterways to discussions about teen mental health.

What does it mean?

Die Belastung (be.last.ung) can mean numerous things depending on its context, but generally it’s used to refer to a “load” or a “burden” of some kind. This can, of course, mean a physical load such as goods on a cargo train, but more often it’s a metaphorical one.

That’s why you may hear politicians in Germany talking about a “finanzielle Belastung” (financial burden) on citizens through inflation, or have a friend write to you about how their hectic new job is “eine Belastung” (a strain). 

Occasionally, Belastung can be a liability or debt, and other times it could be a heavy workload. 

If you hear it in an ecological context, it’s sadly most likely to be referring to pollution or exposure to a toxic substance.

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Beharren

Where does it come from?

The word Belastung appears to come from the noun ‘Last’ in Old High German, which was used to describe something that weighed a person down – in other words, a load. In Middle High German, ‘Last’ could also be used as a measurement to mean an abundance or large quantity of something – again, similar to the English ‘load’.

‘Last’ has the same meaning to this day and can be found tucked away in several German words with similar connotations. For example, as well as burdening someone with a Belastung, you can also free them of their heavy load with an Entlastung. Incidentally, the latter is the word usually used to describe financial relief measures taken by the government. 

Use it like this: 

Ich will an der Universität studieren, aber momentan sind die finanzielle Belastungen zu groß.

I want to study at university, but at the moment the financial burdens are too great.

Mein rücksichtsloser Freund ist eine Belastung.

My reckless friend is liability.