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17 December 2009

Get the right sprite

By Sophie Elmhirst

Christmas. A time of peace, good cheer and the annual tussle between the Christkind and Santa Claus. Not that it would be much of a fight – a formless sprite taking on a bearded, portly old man.

In Austria, however, the battle for the heartland of Christmas has commenced. The pro-Christkind movement has taken to the streets in protest against Santa’s ubiquity.

It claims that he’s a Coke-soaked construct, suited to the rampant commercialism of Britain and the US, but not to Austria’s more conservative tastes. Instead, the movement wants to resurrect the Christkind – the old, Lutheran image of a divine child who over time has morphed into a magical, angelic spirit. Next to the clumping, chimney-descending, reindeer-whipping St Nick, the Christkind is a more delicate proposition, its presence known only by the sound of a tinkling bell. The sprite also has the gift-giving edge over Santa, delivering early – on Christmas Eve.
But in the age of brand recognition, the Christkind’s delicacy has let it down.

The fat man in the red suit is a global phenomenon, helped by the way children can sit on his knee (trickier with an invisible sprite). Undeterred, the pro-Christkinders have fought on, apparently with some success. Santa has been steadily disappearing from the shops of Graz, the gaudy displays of reindeer and sleighs dismantled. Christkind, 1. Santa Claus, 0.

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