For Austrians, Santa is an import that has become well-known through Hollywood movies, American T.V. shows, and Christmas songs in English. We understand his job and his importance to American kids, but traditionally we do not believe in him or ask him for presents; he is obviously not real, so what would be the point. Instead, we have Christkind, who is so different from Santa.
First, Christkind is female and is an angel while Santa is male and rather human looking. Since Christkind is an angel, she has wings and thus flies from household to household and does not use reindeers or a flying sleigh as Santa does. Because Christkind means Christ child, she is also rather slim and definitely not “fluffy” like Santa. She is dressed usually in a white or silver or gold dress and wears a crown or halo. She does bring gifts but does not come through the chimney, and she also helps decorate the Christmas tree (see yesterday’s post). Even though it is important for Austrian children to be nice to receive the gifts they wished for, Christkind does not bring coal; that is associated with St. Nikolaus and December 6. The history of Christkind is supposedly connected with Martin Luther, the church reformer; he wanted to shift the focus from the saint celebrated on December 6 with gifts to the birth of Christ; since most had a hard time associating Christ with gifts, the gift-giver morphed into a child-like angel. Children do send a letter with their wishes to the Christkind, but in Austria, the Christkind has its own address; letters are sent to the town Christkindl, which is a real town. In Bavaria, children send their letters to Himmelstadt, “Heaven Town.”
However, Santa Claus is becoming more and more well-known through the media and advertisements, and this upsets quite a few. So there is actually a kind of fight going on between Christkind and Santa it seems, and the Christkind has plenty of supporters on the web. There is for example, a site named “Santa-Claus-Free Zone.” I grew up with Christkind, but since I am now living in the U.S., our household has adopted both figures: Christkind brings the big gifts under the tree in the evening of December 24 and also decorates the tree, and Santa stuffs the stockings in the early morning of December 25. No fighting for dominance here.