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 phrase of the day: Etwas aus dem Ärmel schütteln

Anyone who has ever had to come up with a great idea on the fly can probably relate to this German phrase.

German phrase of the day: Etwas aus dem Ärmel schütteln

Why do I need to know ‘etwas aus dem Ärmel schütteln’? 

Because this versatile phrase can come in handy in a range of situations, from having pulled off a great presentation at short notice to coming up with a spontaneous solution to a problem. 

What does it mean?

Etwas aus dem Ärmel schütteln is similar to the English phrase “to pull something out of a hat” or “to have something up your sleeve”. Literally, the German phrase means to shake something out of your sleeve, but in a figurative sense it describes coming up with a bright idea or pulling something off without planning or effort. 

Generally, shaking something out of your sleeve is what’s required when you’re faced with a tricky situation and you need to quickly think up a solution. It might be that you have to stand in for a colleague in an important meeting at short notice, or rustle up a meal from the scraps in your cupboard after forgetting that supermarkets are closed on Sunday. 

READ ALSO: German phrase of the day: Ich glaub’ mein Schwein pfeift

In a similar sleeve-related vein, the English phrase “off the cuff” shares the same sense of executing a difficult task spontaneously. 

So, why are sleeves so important for getting out of a sticky situation? Well, there are a few theories about that.

The first relates to a cheat in card games: if you’re dealt a bad hand, you can always improve your chances by pulling out a few better cards that may have found their way into your sleeve earlier on. 

Another theory dates back to the times when people would wear long robes or other garments with wide sleeves. This would allow people not only to warm their hands, but also to store small objects they may need up their sleeves, to be “shaken out” when the time was right. 

Use it like this: 

Was kann er jeztz aus dem Ärmel shütteln? 

What has he got up his sleeve now? 

Wenn Marina denkt, den Abschluss aus dem Ärmel schütteln zu können, dann hat sie sich aber gründlich vertan.

If Marina thinks she can just pull the degree out of her sleeve, then she is very much mistaken.