Monday, December 13, 2010

And What Is A Weihnachtsmann?

A Weihnachtsmann (tr. German: Christmas-man) is a figure developed by Protestants in Germanic countries to replace the Christkindl (tr: Christ Child; this term devolved in the U. S. A. into Kris Kringle) as a Christmas gift-bringer. Christkindl himself had been a replacement for the all-too-Catholic St. Nicholas, but it came to be felt that the role of present deliverer was beneath the dignity of the Messiah. The Weihnachtsmann took over many of the attributes of St. Nicholas: he was a thin old man with a long white beard, his stick replaced the saint's staff, and his pointed hat or hood the bishop's miter. He was often pictured as trudging through the dark and snow with a pack on his back and his stick in hand; as such he rather resembled the itinerant peddlers of the time, and one can imagine parents pretending and children mistaking such a one as "Santa" (in fact, in the old Shirley Temple film Heidi this happens to the Grandfather when he visits town around Christmas). His coat and hat were often trimmed in fur (usually brown) and he could be rather stern of countenance, because he also brought whips to punish the naughty and sometimes even a tail if they had been beastly! The image of the Weihnachtsmann became widespread around 1900 with the predominance of the German lithographic industry and the imagery they employed; much of the "Victorian Santa" pictures come from this era. With the advent of World War One, of course, this popularity dropped off. As time has passed the Weihnachtsmann has gained more and more of the attributes of the American Santa Claus, so that now there seems to be little difference visually between the two. But there are plenty of people who still enjoy the more traditional figure of the Weihnachtsmann as being more distanced from the commercially worn icon of Santa Claus.

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