The Christkind is an alternate Christmas figure developed by church reformer Martin Luther in the 16th century. One contention of Luther and others who sought to change Catholicism was that praying to saints was a form of idolatry, and thus strictly outlawed in many places in the Bible. The tradition of waiting for St. Nicholas to arrive and bring Christmas presents would not do in Lutheran teaching, and Luther instead enjoined his followers to anticipate the coming of Christ.
Christkind, which means Christ child, is a representation of Jesus as a child, not an infant. Early forms of this figure showed a young blonde child with wings. Traditions have expanded the Christkind role in certain parts of Germany, Austria, and other countries nearby, and now local towns may elect a teen girl to play the Christ child for several weeks during the Christmas season. What began as a slightly older version of Jesus has become a winged blonde teenage girl, usually bedecked in white and gold.
This figure shares much in common with Santa Claus, and delivers gifts on Christmas Eve. The main difference in thought, especially in early times, was the idea this figure was a representation of Christ. Emphasis was on the fact that it is Jesus Christ through which all good things come, and certainly not a saint or any secular version of Santa Claus. Santa Claus and all his manifestations have never quite left, and the name Kris Kringle actually derives from Christkind.
The angelic symbol has been particularly revived in place like Nuremberg, Germany, since the end of World War II. It is from this point forward that various christkinder have been depicted as teenage girls. One tradition that dates back centuries is the christkindlesmarkt, a Christmas market held in various towns each year where vast numbers of Christmas supplies and toys are sold. These markets are particularly enjoyed and many people come to sample food and drink, as well as to shop for the season.
At such markets, an elected Christkind may be present, and adults and children can both visit with her. Since World War II, she has not only come to represent the Christ child but also to be a symbol of hope after great destruction. She additionally stands for the very personal relationship that each individual can have with Jesus Christ.
Controversy about using Santa (St. Nick) or other figures still continues. Some towns in countries that anticipate the Christkind are disturbed when various Santa Claus representations are promulgated. Others allow the two figures to exist together, with each having symbolic importance during the Christmas season.