St. Nicholas, Santa Claus and German Christkindl
Several years ago I saw a delightful sight in Baden-Baden in southern Germany. It was December 6, so the Christmas season was in full swing. The Christkindl Market was in town and the mood was merry. It was a rainy, dreary evening as I walked from the public spa to the hotel. Chilled and anxious to get to the warmth of the hotel room, I was surprised to see a crowd gathered in the rain, looking upward. I followed the direction of their gaze and saw St. Nicholas perched on the second floor ledge of a corner building. He appeared to have stepped out onto the ledge through a window.He wasn’t going to jump. St. Nicholas was entertaining the crowd. As I recall, he was a tall, thin gentleman, wearing a long red coat and a long white beard. St. Nicholas Day was not a day that we observed in my family, but I had heard of the tradition. I surmised that this was St. Nick who filled children’s shoes with candy.
St. Nicholas was playful as he looked down on the crowd, making a striking figure. Soon two of his helpers stepped out on the ledge and stood beside him.
It was a delightful scenario and it left me wondering about the difference between St. Nicholas and Santa Claus. Here is what I found.
St. NIcholas & Santa Claus
St. Nicholas is a saint of the Catholic Religion. Although he is related to Santa Claus in appearance and function, there are important differences. Santa Claus is a secular figure who gives gifts on Christmas Eve on Christmas Day.
According to The History of Santa Claus on the website, The North Pole, St. Nicholas ws the patron saint of children and seafarers. In the Protestant areas of northern and central Germany, St. Nicholas later became known as der Weinachtsmass. In England he became known as Father Christmas. He made his way to the United States with Dutch immigrants, where Sinter Klaas become Santa Claus.
Religious Reform, Martin Luther and Christkindl
Religious reformer, Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant religion, is credited with starting the custom of giving gifts to children on Christmas Day. The gifts were supposed to be from the Christ Child, called Christkindl. Christkindl appeared much like an angel, wearing while robes and a golden crown. According to legend, Luther started to tradition of giving gifts on Christmas as a substitute for the Catholic saint day of December 6.
Germany has a facinating history in the Christian Faith. Catholicism was the state religion until the 1500’s, when the advent of the Protestant Reformation shook the world. Martin Luther translated the Latin Bible into German, meaning that the common literate man was able to read the Word of God for the first time.
Luther was not the first reformer to translate the Holy Bible. A century before Luther’s Day, Jan Hus translated the Bible into Czechoslovakian. Hus was a priest who was branded a heretic and burned a the stake in Constance in Southern Germany.
Historians know that the battle between Catholic and Protestant was a bloody one, as Catholics fought to maintain control and Reformers fought for the right to worship by reading a bible in the common language. There is an excellent movie about this subject, by the name of Luther, produced in 2003.
St. Nicholas, Santa Claus and Christkindl
Through the years, the traditions seemed to have merged, with the Santa Claus, appearing much like St. Nicholas, the bearer of gifts on Christmas Day.
Today the battles are forgotten by many. St. Nicholas, Christkindl and Santa Claus are all characters that are recognized as symbols of Christmas in Germany, and in other countries.
Christian Faith and Christmas
The Christian faith is based upon the belief that God came to earth and a tiny infant who grew to be a man who created the bridge too salvation. That is the real reason to celebrate Christmas.
Booths offer traditional Thuringian handcrafts and sweets and a big Ferris wheel stand at the Christmas Fair during heavy rain in front of the Mariendom (Cathedral of Mary), center left, and St. Severi’s Church, right, in Erfurt, central Germany, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012. The Erfurt Christmas Market is one of the most beautiful Christmas Markets in Germany. The square is decorated with a huge, candle-lit Christmas tree and a large, hand-carved nativity scene. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)