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The Christ Child: The Meaning and History of the Blonde-Haired Angel

Blonde-haired with a white ruffled dress, wings and a halo: this is how we imagine the figure of the Christ Child, who lights up the eyes of young children on Christmas Eve. After all, according to a centuries-old custom, the Christ Child brings the presents to the children. But do you know the story behind the angel?

Christ Child or Father Christmas

Every year the Christ Child comes - this is how many people who have grown up in the Christian faith know it from childhood. In the German-speaking world, there is a dichotomy in the name of the person who brings presents to children at Christmas: while in the north and east of Germany, Father Christmas hands out presents on Christmas Eve; in the south and west, as well as in Austria and Switzerland, it's the Christ Child who appears to put the presents under the Christmas tree. In numbers: 45 per cent of Germans stated in a survey that Father Christmas is regarded as the bearer of Christmas presents in their family or close relatives, while 39 per cent named the Christ Child. But how did the Christ Child come to be and where did the story of the Christ Child originate?

Origin and meaning of the Christ Child

To understand how the idea of the Christ Child originated, let's take a trip back in time. In the fourth century, Saint Nicholas lived as the Bishop of Myra in what is now Turkey. He was a charitable and kind person who had a particularly kind heart for the poor. Later legends eventually made him one of the most revered saints, but also the bringer of gifts. You can find out more about Saint Nicholas in our article: "Why do we celebrate Saint Nicholas? The history & significance of the saint".

Saint Nicholas of MyraBefore the Christ Child, Saint Nicholas brought the presents on Saint Nicholas' Day.

Who "invented" the Christ Child?

For the Protestants, however, the veneration of saints and thus of Saint Nicholas was a thorn in their side. They found the Saint Nicholas custom a "kyndisch ding" and rejected it outright. For this reason, Martin Luther is said to have introduced the Christ Child as the bearer of gifts in the 16th century as a counter-design to Saint Nicholas. The feast of the birth of Christ was to become the focus of attention and was also to be reflected in Christmas customs. In Protestant regions, the gift-giving ceremony was from then on held on 25 December, the feast of Christmas.

The Christ Child in the manger - next to Mary and JosephThe Christ-child is also the name given to the newborn Jesus in the Christmas manger.

The original Christ Child looked quite similar to the newborn baby Jesus. However, the figure of the Christ Child eventually developed independently. Over the years, the idea of the Christ Child as an angel-like being, who visually no longer had much in common with Jesus, became firmly established among the people. The depiction as an angel probably stems from parade customs and nativity plays, in which angels were usually led by a "Christ Child". A connection to the Feast of St. Lucia on 13 December is also conceivable. In Scandinavian countries, girls wear white robes and a wreath of light on their heads on this feast day and thus look strikingly similar to our idea of the Christ Child.

The Christ Child first became widespread in Protestant Germany, later also in the Rhineland and southern Germany. With the Reformation, the Protestant Church reintroduced Christmas Eve as the day for giving presents.

Is the Christ Child female or male?

The term "Christ Child" is not only used to describe the blond-haired gift-bringer, but also the representation of the newborn Jesus lying in the Christmas manger. Alternatively, terms such as holy child, little Jesus or baby Jesus are also used. Here, the Christ Child always appears as a male person.

Baby Jesus loosefrom 35 €
Baby Jesus in Manger (stained)from 68 €
Jesus child with cromefrom 60 €
Heart with Jesus childfrom 23 €

For some Christian scholars like Professor Manfred Becker-Huberti, on the other hand, the Christ Child is genderless, because after all, the Christ Child works in secret, and no one has ever seen them. Therefore, it is impossible to say with certainty whether it is a boy or a girl.

Incidentally, Father Christmas, like the Christ Child, is an invention of the 16th century, but without a biblical background. Visually, Father Christmas was modelled on Saint Nicholas, but his appearance has changed several times. In the 18th century, he appeared with a rod and also had an educational mission in bourgeois circles. The modern image of Father Christmas was shaped by the advertising campaign of the American Coca-Cola company in 1932. The Coca-Cola version of Father Christmas has gained acceptance and replaced the Christ Child as the bearer of gifts in many regions.

Today's customs around the Christ Child

Wish list for the Christ Child

Many children send their Christmas wish list to the Christ Child during Advent. These have been collected and answered in the Upper Austrian village of Christkindl since the 1950s.

Christmas wish listChildren can send their wish lists to the Christ Child and receive an reply.

Nuremberg Christ Child

Some beautiful Christmas traditions have developed around the figure of the Christ Child, which we present below.

Video: Nürnberger Christkindlmarkt

The Nuremberg Christ Child, who has opened the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt every year since 1933, has achieved worldwide fame. In the beginning, the Christ Child was portrayed by professionals, but since 1969 a young woman from the city has been chosen as Christ Child every two years - a great honour for the up-and-coming Christ Child. In the following video, you can see the ceremonial prologue of the Christ Child from the gallery of the Nuremberg Frauenkirche at the opening of the Christkindlesmarkt in 2018.

Credits: main image: © doris oberfrank-list / stock.adobe.com; image 1: © Adam Ján Figeľ/ stock.adobe.com; image 2: © wideonet / stock.adobe.com; image 3: © VRD / stock.adobe.com; product images: © Lignoma.

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