In a German town, Santa Claus is being replaced by a sleigh-driving teen girl

In the small town of Waging, Germany, the unthinkable happened: Santa Claus retired. Ok, well, not Santa Claus-Santa Claus, but rather the guy who plays Jolly Old Saint Nick year after year. Basically this teeny-tiny Alpine town’s version of Mall Santa.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, rather than trying to recreate the past and replace Santa, the community had an idea: what if they created a new holiday icon? Thus the idea for the “town angel” was born. This town angel is a character based on the German Catholic “Christkind,” an angel who delivers presents to good little children on Christmas Eve.

This whole town angel thing isn’t just a cute little, “Oh, why don’t we do something new this Christmas?” kinda thing. The town of 6,500 super depends on tourism during the holiday season. Christmas is big leagues in Bavaria, and shopkeepers were freaking out about the fact that a major lack of Santa would translate into a major lack of sales.

With an open position in the holiday cheer department, the town looked to its young women to rise to the challenge and perform what has traditionally been a man’s job. In fact many of the girl’s in the community find the idea of an angel much more relatable than Santa. “I think the angel can take over the role of Santa,” 13-year-old Josefa Wiedemann told the Wall Street Journal. “As a small child I always looked up to the angel and I found Santa a bit strange.”

Thirty girls between the ages of 12 and 15 competed for the position of town angel. In their auditions, these girls were required to demonstrate their stage presence while reciting a poem from memory. The winning girl, as town angel, will assume several of Santa’s duties, including listening to the Christmas wish lists of the town’s children over the next few weekends as well as taking a trip around town, and delivering small gifts to the local children from her horse-drawn cart. 

So who’s the new town angel? In the end, the crown went to 14-year-old Manuela Fenninger, whose (completely appropriate) response to her win was waving her arms in delight, announcing her happiness, and running over to shake hands with the retiring Santa.

Here’s hoping more communities pick up what this small German town threw down, and we see more “town angels” appear around the world. Whoever said Christmas had to be all about a guy?

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