Preparing our Hearts for Christmas :: A Soft Manger, Christkindl, and a Letter to the Christ Child

by | Nov 17, 2012 | Advent and Christmas, Christkindl, Christmas 2012 | 33 comments

Each Advent, as we prepare for Christmas, our children love creating a soft place for the Infant Jesus to arrive on Christmas morning by placing a piece of straw (or raffia) in the manger for each of their extra prayers, good works, and sacrifices.

This year, as some of the children get older, we have decided to expand on this tradition by incorporating the Christkindl tradition which Maria von Trapp shares in her book Around the Year with the Trapp Family.  (Unfortunately this book is out of print, but you can find the complete text at EWTN.  Many years ago I printed it out in it’s entirety!)  Growing up my family enjoyed doing this during Advent, and it was also encouraged at Christendom College when I was a student!  (I still remember the funky glasses and “pet bug” I found in my mailbox which my Christkindl – also known as Kris Kringle – left me as a gift! lol)   

Mrs. Von Trapp explains the tradition much better than I ever could so I am just going to share a quote:

… And then comes another exciting moment. Once more the mother appears with the bowl, which she passes around. This time the pieces of paper contain the names of the members of the family and are neatly rolled up, because the drawing has to be done in great secrecy. The person whose name one has drawn is now in one’s special care. From this day until Christmas, one has to do as many little favors for him or her as one can. One has to provide at least one surprise every single day–but without ever being found out. This creates a wonderful atmosphere of joyful suspense, kindness, and thoughtfulness. Perhaps you will find that somebody has made your bed or shined your shoes or has informed you, in a disguised handwriting on a holy card, that “a rosary has been said for you today” or a number of sacrifices have been offered up. This new relationship is called “Christkindl” (Christ Child) in the old country, where children believe that the Christmas tree and the gifts under it are brought down by the Christ Child himself.

The beautiful thing about this particular custom is that the relationship is a reciprocal one. The person whose name I have drawn and who is under my care becomes for me the helpless little Christ Child in the manger; and as I am performing these many little acts of love and consideration for someone in the family I am really doing them for the Infant of Bethlehem, according to the word, “And he that shall receive one such little child in my name, receiveth me.” That is why this particular person turns into “my Christkindl.” At the same time I am the “Christkindl” also for the one I am caring for because I want to imitate the Holy Child and render all those little services in the same spirit as He did in that small house of Nazareth, when as a child He served His Mother and His foster father with a similar love and devotion.

Many times throughout these weeks can be heard such exclamations as, “I have a wonderful Christkindl this year!” or, “Goodness, I forgot to do something for my Christkindl and it is already suppertime!” It is a delightful custom, which creates much of the true Christmas spirit and ought to be spread far and wide…

On the first Sunday of Advent we will draw names.  (I’m thinking the oldest five children this year, but if any of you have done this before and have suggestions or advice, I’d love to hear it in the comment box!)  I also plan to have the children write a letter to the Christ Child this year, also inspired by Maria Von Trapp:

…And there is still one very important thing to do for Advent. According to Austrian custom, every member of the family writes a letter to the Holy Child mentioning his resolutions for the weeks of Advent and listing all his wishes for gifts. This “Christkindl Brief” (letter to the Holy Child) is put on the window sill, from whence the Guardian Angel will take it up to heaven to read it aloud to the Holy Child…

Update: Our children tuck their letters into their shoes on the eve of the feast of St. Nicholas so that he can pick them up and deliver them to the Christ Child.

I’m really looking forward to adding these old customs to our family traditions


  1. CeAnne @ Sanctus Simplicitus

    Love that book! I was blessed with an original copy for $4, St. Anthony is a wonderful heavenly friend! I hope to do both these items when our kids are a bit older. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. Jamie Jo

    We do this, but call it "Christmas Angels"!! I didn't know the history behind this kind of thing. When I was teaching,(Montessori)us teachers exchanged names and were "Christmas Angels" so I started a couple years ago with my kiddos, and they love it!! my oldest daughter was just talking about it the other day. You and your kiddos will love it, it's something they won't forget. I'm going to have to print up what you wrote here and read it to the kids! Thank you!

  3. Jessica Gordon

    What a blessing! I am sure I spent more than that on just paper and printer ink! I keep hoping that it will eventually be re-printed, or that I can find an old copy that is reasonably priced.

  4. Jessica Gordon

    Christmas Angles! How sweet! I'm glad to hear that your children love it, I'm sure mine will too!!

  5. Beth

    What a great tradition. Thanks for the great resource and sharing this beautiful tradition. I don't think we'll be able to do this tradition this year, but I love the way it is presented and the sentiment is certainly something that we will begin to incorporate into how we talk about gifts to others.

  6. Anonymous

    Such beautiful ideas. Filled with the TRUE meaning of Christmas!
    Thanks so much for sharing. Ann

  7. Krista

    My daughter is in 1st grade this year and last year I introduced her to the Christkindl. This year perhaps we can start on the other customs such as the Chrsitkindl Brief and little acts of kindness, goodness, etc. She is an only child, so perhaps we could incorporate it as a family in general or branch out to the community/parish.

    The Von Trapps came to live in my little humble state of Vermont, so there is a special connection for me, even though I am not of Austrian heritage.

    I hope your family enjoys these wonderful traditions and customs! Keep up posted! 🙂


  8. Cheryl Schroeder Basile

    The Christkind is an actual figure in parts of Germany (who appears instead of Santa Claus/St Nick and/or with him). It's a girl dressed up to look a bit like an angel. In Chicago there is a Christkindlmarket (similar to the one held in Nuremberg) and the Christkind appears there. Here's a photo of her:

    Although I knew about Christkind, I didn't know about the tradition of secret favors. Think I'll try that this year in our home–thank you for the idea!

    A few years ago, I purchased some Hallmark "Christkind" ornaments inexpensively from eBay to give to my kids. I was thinking about giving them this year, and perhaps combining it with the launch of our Christkind tradition. Here's a photo of the ornament on Ebay (only $2.98 right now!)

  9. Jessica Gordon

    Thanks for the links!

    I read a little bit about the German "Christkind" last night – I had never really read much about that tradition, though I had heard of it before. Last year our kids received the St. Nikolaus and Christkind (as it is called on their website) Playmobil toys on St. Nicholas Day, though I never did explain this to them and they just called it the "Christmas Angel."

    I ordered one of the ornaments you suggested, using Buy it Now for only $5 including shipping! It will be the perfect addition, as we begin this new tradition. Have you seen this cute little Christkindl?

  10. Jessica Gordon

    I didn't think we had any "special" connection to the Von Trapps – other than loving their story – but my husband's cousin/godmother just sent me an email this morning, after seeing this post, letting me know that my husband's aunt (married to his mother's brother) was friends with with Maria Von Trapp! She said that one Christmas, after her aunt and uncle had visited with the Von Trapps, she was given a Christmas Music Book signed by Maria Von Trapp as a Christmas present!

  11. Anonymous

    Thank you for this reminder. As my children get older, I will use this! Yes, I remember Kris Kringle at Christendom too. Fun stuff! (So I've found out, you and I were there a year apart 🙂 The Letter to the Christ Child we will start this year! Thank you for gathering all of this together and sharing it with us! – Genevieve

  12. Jessica Gordon

    Really!? Were you there the year after, or before?

  13. Anonymous

    Before 🙂

  14. Anne McD

    I was there with you, then 😉 I remember someone gave someone else a goat. I think I'll give this a try with my kids this year!

  15. Krista

    I got my daughter those same Playmobil figures last year, too! I have a friend in Germany that introduced me to these traditions and there is a GREAT show of Rick Steves European Christmas and one of the places he goes to is Nuremberg and the Christkind is there for the children. It's always on PBS during December, so keep a look out for it soon!

  16. Jessica Gordon

    HA! I don't remember that, but it doesn't surprise me at all! 🙂

  17. Krista

    Oh WOW! How NEAT! I've heard a lot about Maria von Trapp over the years. Their lodge in Stowe is well known to us Vermonters. Apparently the family came to VT because it reminded them of Austria. I'm reading your post to my husband as well. I saw a stage production of "The Sound of Music" staring Richard Chamberlain as Captain von Trapp in Boston back in 1999 – WONDERFUL production!

  18. Krista

    I just ordered the "cute little christkindl" figure from the International Santa collection that you mentioned, Jessica! What a lovely piece and it will be wonderful indeed to add to our Christmas collection!

  19. Krista

    "This 'Christkindl Brief' (letter to the Holy Child) is put on the window sill, from whence the Guardian Angel will take it up to heaven to read it aloud to the Holy Child…"

    Does this quote from Maria von Trapp's book not bring a sweet tear to the eye, thinking about the innocence of our children? Absolutely precious….

  20. Julie

    When my husband and I were dating at Christendom, we actually drew each other's names but were able to keep it a complete secret until the Christmas formal. It was super shocking, but sweet!!

  21. Jessica Gordon

    That is so neat! What a special memory!! And I'm loving all the Christendom comments! lol

  22. Erin

    That book has been pivotal in forming our family traditions, such as the straw in the manger and Christkindl, our children so look forward to Christkindl:) We do all names into the hat, big and little, and give lots of suggestions for kind deeds when little.
    On a good year we also manage the letter:) so sweet to look back:)

  23. Krista

    In case anyone is interested, here is the link to the von Trapp family lodge in Vermont (Stowe). ON the right side of the main homepage, there is a link to the family's history and info about Maria von Trapp, too, the movie, her book, etc….

  24. Lindsay

    Have you ever looked on Ebay for "Around the Year with the Trapp Family?" My mom has long owned a copy, but now I needed my own. 🙂 I recently bought one from Ebay and paid around $20 (with shipping). The "cheaper" copies are definitely a bit more worn/little dog-eared, but better than the current Amazon options! Just thought I'd mention that in case anyone else is looking. Lots of wonderful traditions listed here! God Bless!

  25. Mary

    Thanks for sharing the ChristKindle tradition, Jessica. This has been a well loved and much used tradition in our home since we too, read about it in Maria von Trapp's book. In spite of the fact that nearly all of us children still at home are all adults or teens, we STILL look forward to drawing our ChristKindles out of a hat each year. The only down side to everyone being older in this tradition is that the spies are suddenly everywhere and secrets are easily discovered. 🙂

  26. Maggie

    What beautiful traditions…

  27. Krista

    Wanted to ask you – what size infant Jesus do you own (in your picture above)? Would love to purchase one!

  28. Krista

    I see you linked to the 12" size, so I'll assume you have that one. I believe it comes in 8" or 16", too…

  29. Jessica Gordon

    Yes, that is correct! 🙂 We do own the 12" Infant Jesus. I have been very happy with the size.

  30. Krista

    Ordered it! Just need to get some straw! 🙂 It's really lovely and reasonably priced having looked around online and in fact, I just got the "Catholic Child" Christmas catalogue on the mail today and saw it! Looking forward to adding it to our Christkindl tradition we began last year!

    Thanks for all your links and ideas!

  31. Unknown

    We did a similar custom growing up. My parents called it Kris Kringle. We would draw names and be that person's Kris Kringle for the season of advent. We would do things like sneak in and tidy the person's room, leave a note or a rose on their pillow etc. I really like the connection to Christ in this example!

  32. Jeri

    We are flying to visit my hubby’s parents in Chicago over Christmas. We will be heading to the Chicago/German community to enjoy the ChristKindl festival. This is a first so very excited.

  33. Jeri

    We are flying to Chicago for a few days over Christmas. We are heading to the German community in Chicago for the ChristKindl festival. This will be a first so very excited.


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