In many parts of Germany the secret delivery of gifts on Christmas Eve is attributed not to Santa Claus but to the Christkind (“Christ Child”)—or, in diminutive form, Christkindl. The idea that the baby Jesus is responsible for such a service originated with the Protestant reformer Martin Luther, who wanted to shift the association of gift giving away from St. Nicholas. Up until this point in history, gifts were exchanged in St. Nicholas’s name on his feast day, December 6; this was the major gift giving holiday, which children especially looked forward to. Luther, however, promoted December 24 as the primary date of gift giving, to link the receiving of good things with the receiving of the greatest thing: God in Christ, a savior.
Since Luther’s time the popular conception of the Christkind has evolved from a little blonde-haired boy (a Germanized Jesus) into a feminine angel, whose relationship to Jesus is unclear. Some say the Christkind is a messenger of Jesus; others say she is simply one who demonstrates Christ-like virtue. The angelic representation of the Christkind likely arose as a conflation of characters from nativity plays and Christmas parades, in which the Christ child is attended by angels.
On Christmas Eve night children are told to wait in their rooms for the arrival of the Christkind, who announces her delivery by ringing a bell. By the time the children run out of their rooms to greet her, she is gone, and the living room is filled with freshly laid gifts, which the children proceed to open right then (rather than waiting till the morning, as in America). In some homes it is the Christkind who sets up the family Christmas tree, or is at least the one who decorates it. Continue reading