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A popular Christmas postmark

In Austria, it is Christkindl, the Christ Child, who brings the presents on Christmas Eve. Christkindl is also the name of a small village located in Upper Austria, just west of Steyr. It is here where the most popular Christmas postmark originates.

Originally the village started as a pilgrimage shrine where a healing miracle had occurred. According to folklore of the area, a choirmaster and organist, Ferdinand Sertl who suffered from epilepsy visited the area in the winter of 1691. For health reasons, he walked often in the woods above the town of Steyr. Being a religious man he often resorted to prayer while on his walks. On one occasion he carried a small statue of the Christ Child given to him by nuns from a nearby convent. He placed the statue in a niche he had cut in a pine tree in the forest. Kneeling before the statue he prayed for relief from his illness. His health did improve and local people hearing of his "miraculous cure" visited the area and soon it became a seasonal centre for pilgrims from Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Holland and France. In 1697 a small wooden enclosure was built around the tree.

By 1709 a church was erected at the site. The unique church, constructed under the direction of two famous master builders, Italian architect Carlo Antonio Carlone and Austrian architect Jacob Prandtauer has become a prominent tourist attraction in Austria today. Reconstructed in 1877 the church (Fig. 2) has incorporated in its central altar, the tree trunk.

In 1950 the Austrian postal administration decided to use the village for a Christmas mail promotion experiment. A seasonal post office was opened in a hostelry and a special hand cancel was applied to mail posted here. At the time Christkindl was in the Russian Occupation Zone. Seeing something sinister in the proceedings, mail with the Christ Child carrying a tree (Fig. 3) was allowed to be sent only within Austria. 42,330 pieces received this green cancel.
An obvious success, the practice has continued ever since; the central theme of most postmarks used since being either the Infant Jesus or the name Christkindl. In 1951, 50,113 pieces of mail received the cancellation showing the Christ Child on a cloud holding a smaller tree (Fig. 4). Since 1951, the mail was permitted internationally.

The feast of 3 Kings is also of special significance in Austria. Beginning in 1965, two different designs were used to cancel mail; a Christmas theme is used through Dec. 26 and a Three Kings theme is used from Dec. 27 to Jan. 6 (Fig. 5). The temporary post office opens in late November each year and has become one of Austria's busiest post offices handling over 2.5 million pieces of mail. It is easy to see why these postmarks have become one of the most popular items among Christmas collectors.

Some links to other pages with information about Christkindl.


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Revised: 03/25/2014 kw