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A name that has become synonymous with Santa Claus, Kriss Kringle is perhaps best known for his presence in the classic film, Miracle on 34th Street, but the character has its origins in the German Christmas legend of Christ Kindl (known more formally as Christkindlein).

One of the many Christmas characters to spring to life in Germany, the Christ Kindl was Martin Luther’s direct answer to St. Nicholas when he banned the Saint from religious households in the 1600s. The Christ Kindl brought gifts of small toys, mittens, and fruit to children on Christmas Eve – not St. Nicholas Day (December 6th) as was the custom with St. Nicholas. The Christ Kindl (short for small Christ Child) was portrayed as a non gender-specific angelic child wearing long gowns of white. S/he had long ringlets of golden yellow hair, topped with a halo. The Christ Kindl was often portrayed as barefoot and carrying small baskets of fruit or candles. As was the trend in many European countries in the middle ages, Germany had both happy and angry gift givers. Christ Kindl was the happy counterpart to the Belsnickel or the Knecht Ruprecht (depending on the date and what region of Germany you happened to be in).

As Germans immigrated to the new world, they brought with them the name of their gift giver.  After years of mispronunciation by their new American neighbors, Christ Kindl eventually became  "Kriss Kringle". By the latter half of the nineteenth century, Kriss Kringle was the most common Christmas bearer in Pennsylvania. The original association with the Christ Kindl was eventually lost, and Kriss Kringle became just another name for Santa Claus.
Sources include: http://www.kindredkringles.com/legends.htm among other smaller pages

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