'Christ Child', Austria's Christmas village

Christkindl (Austria) (AFP) –


Traditionally in Austria, and elsewhere in Europe, it's not Santa who gives out the gifts but the "Christkindl" ("Christ Child"). And in the village actually called Christkindl, it's busy right now.

Every Christmas period the small village sets up a temporary post office to stamp almost two million Christmas cards with a special postmark, and using a different design every day.

"When you consider the number of inhabitants it's certainly a record, particularly seeing as this happens over just six weeks," says Eva Poetzl from the local tourism office.

"Either people bring the letters themselves or, more usually, a special service by the Austrian Post transports them here to be stamped, including from abroad," Poetzl told AFP.

Gerhard Eismayr, one of several thousand people who make the pilgrimage to Christkindl to get his greetings cards stamped in person, said it's a worthwhile experience.

"If I want to give my friends and acquaintances something very personal, there is only one way: the post office of Christkindl," the pensioner from nearby Wels told AFP.

"It says I'm making the effort for you to do something personal and nice... a postcard with a stamp from here."

Children from all over the world also write to the "Christ Child" and their letters are even answered -- provided the kids include a self-addressed and stamped envelope.

- Miracle -

The special post office in Christkindl has been running since 1950 but the fame of the northern Austrian village on top of a hill dates back to the 17th century.

In the winter of 1691, one Ferdinand Sertl placed a small Christ Child in a niche he had cut in a pine tree and prayed to be relieved on his epilepsy.

His prayers were answered. Word spread and soon afterwards today's Baroque church was built on the site, with the original tree trunk visible in the altar.

Nearby meanwhile is a musical, mechanical Nativity scene of 300 wooden Biblical figures tottering around thanks to a unique contraption of bicycle chains, shafts and gear wheels.

And that's not even the village's only Nativity scene. Christkindl's second one is one of the world's largest, accommodating 778 figures in a huge cabinet.