A much loved Christmas tradition is called Secret Santa or more commonly known as Kris Kringle. Kris Kringle is a variation of the Santa Claus name and originated in Germany. Secret Santa is a western tradition originated in and popular in America. There are variations in the spelling of the name too for example, in England and Ireland it is spelled as ‘Chris Kindle’. While in Australia and Canada both Secret Santa and Kris Kringle are commonly used for this tradition.
Kris Kringle is derived from the German traditional gift bringer called Christkindle meaning Christ child. The tradition of the Christkind started in the 16th century in Europe. It was a time when protestant Martin Luther used his power to discourage the figure of St Nicholas as the gift bringer. He thought it more fitting that the infant of Bethlehem, the Christ child be represented as the gift bearer. The Christkind morphed into variations of an infant angel with wings to a white robed, crown wearing teenage girl angel dressed in gold. The Christkind secretly collects letters left by children on their window sill Christmas eve and in return leaves a present in its place.
Santa Claus was brought to America by Pennsylvania Dutch settlers. In the mid 1820s they called him Kris Kringle or Belsnickle from the German ‘Pelz-nickle’ meaning ‘Nicholas in Furs’ referring to St Nicholas who transformed into Santa Claus.
In Austria, Germany and Switzerland the tradition is called Engerl und Bengerl or Wichteln. In Brazil and most places in Latin America it is practiced under the name ‘Amigo Secreto’ meaning secret friend while in Spain it is called ‘Amigo Invisible’ meaning invisible friend.
Nonetheless, whatever name it is called, it is a fun tradition often practiced in work places, community groups and at large family gatherings. Each participants name is written onto a slip of paper and put into a box or hat and mixed up. Each person then draws one slip of paper and that is the person for whom they must anonymously purchase a gift to be given at the designated Christmas event. The gift is then placed under the Christmas tree or on an allocated table with the name of the person it is for and nothing more. It is a great way for family and friends and larger groups of people to share in the festive fun of gift giving with minimal expense.
Variations of ‘Secret Santa’ include each person writing under their name a short list of gift ideas they would like within the budget limit allocated for gift purchasing. It is common to have a limit placed on the amount that can be spent on gifts. Sometimes the gift giver will reveal themselves by giving the present directly to the person when all gathered together so that everyone knows their identity. Sometimes the extra money saved by this practice is gathered and given to the group or work place chosen charity.