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.
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.
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.