As a teenager growing up in Germany, Katrin Urschel was chosen to act as the Christkind (literally “Christ Child”), and toured around the country as the physical embodiment of Christmas. The flaxen-haired rep of the baby Jesus would open the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg. Since the role has only been filled every two years since 1969, the presence of a real Nuremberg Christkind in Toronto is something of a rarity.
Urschel, who’s now a professor at U of T, recalled how, as a child she knew she wanted to be the Christkind. Protestant founder Martin Luther invented the character in the 16th century in an effort to usurp the popularity of the Catholic St. Nicholas. The Nuremberg Christkind is considered to be the “real” one, as that market is one of the most famous, and the girl chosen to play her takes on massive responsibility and a busy engagement schedule.
Urschel underwent a rigorous vetting schedule after applying in 1997, beating out other 16-to 19-year-old competitors in a massive search. Every day, Urschel would tuck her own hair under a curly blonde wig, don a flowing gown, and attach magnificent wings to her shoulders. She was chauffeured across the country, listening to gift requests from children, meeting with the elderly, and making television and radio appearances.
The experience made her more extroverted and informed her career path. “I just became a lot more interested in how society gels together and how meaningful traditions are to people,” she said. “I initially thought I was going to study marine biology. Then after I became Christkind, I became much more interested in actually working with people.” She chose interdisciplinary cultural and business studies, and moved to Toronto in 2005, where she landed a job as an instructor in the English department at U of T. We suspect the school’s holiday cheer must be at an all time high.