Investigating Santa's Dark Doppelgängers

I remember going to Catholic School in Indiana in the 1960s and the nuns telling us about St Nicholas' feast, December 6th, and the tradition of putting our shoes outside on the evening of the 5th, for him to fill. If you were good you'd get an orange and sweets but if you were bad, you'd only get sticks and coal in your shoe the next morning. We were always told St. Nick did all the work giving gifts or beatings depending on what he thought your behavior was the last year.

It wasn’t until 2011 that I finally found out that there was a dark doppelganger to Santa, not only that, but that there were several variations on the same theme!

This was entirely fascinating to me as I never knew that there was a whole 'nother polar opposite to Santa Claus [Sinterklaas].  Always before I had been taught that Santa was the whole judge and jury on your yearly behavior.  Seeing them as two separate entities makes the idea or good versus bad quite clearly defined.  Not so much if you envision one being with the ability to reward and to punish, which is much more like a real super parent.  

Unfortunately this teaches children that if they're "good", they will be rewarded; but if they were "bad" they would be punished.  I'm not sure how the folk-tale of Santa is related today but I am betting that the whole punishment side is downplayed, certainly more so than when I believed in a man bringing me presents every 25th of December.

In case you don’t know about the main tradition, it goes like this: As in other countries, many people in the United States celebrate a separate St Nicholas Day by putting their shoes outside their bedroom doors on the evening of December 5th. St Nicholas then comes during the night. On the morning of December 6th, those people will find their shoes filled with gifts and sugary treats. Widespread adoption of the tradition has spread among the German, Polish, Belgian and Dutch communities throughout the United States.

I started looking out for anything related to this tradition of the henchmen of Santa and viola, I found this fantastic page from the From Indiana German Heritage Society Newsletter: Vol. 18, No. 1, winter 2002-3

by Ruth Reichmann
Old-timers in Indiana still remember Belsnickel, the "Pelznickel" (literally "Fur-Nikolaus") of the Palatinate. [The Palatinate has a border beginning in the north, on the Moselle River about 35 miles southwest of Coblenz to Bingen and east to Mainz, down the Rhine River to Oppenheim, Guntersblum and Worms, then continuing eastward above the Nieckar River about 25 miles east of Heidelberg then looping back westerly below Heidelberg to Speyer, south down the Rhine River to Alsace, then north-westerly back up to its beginning on the Moselle River. ] From http://www.olivetreegenealogy.com/palatines/palatine-history.shtml

Belsnickel's name appears in many variations such as Bells Nickel, Belschnickle, Belsniggles and Belsh Nickle, etc. When he arrived at their door, he represented a nostalgic reminder to the adults of their childhood days, however, the children viewed him with mixed feelings.
Known to 19th-century children as a servant of Saint Nicholas, "der Belsnickel" would carry a bunch of switches which were a threat to those who had been bad, and he carried goodies of peanuts, cookies or candy in a burlap bag or ample pockets, as he made his rounds to check on the behavior of boys and girls.

He would have a large book in which the names of the children and their good or bad deeds were kept. Only good children were to receive treats. If a child had been naughty he could also receive a lump of coal or a stick as a reminder to behave in the future.
Mary Lou Golembeski in the Harmonie Herald, Old Economy, PA, tells us: "Not only did the spellings vary but changes also occurred in his appearance and his antics from one community to another." Belsnickel may wear a long, black or brown coat or robe, held together at the waist with a rope, and a fur cap or bear skin hat, decorated with bells. He may have a band of Black Peters with blackened faces, or other rough characters with him. They would be dressed in fantastic costumes, some trimmed with fur, and move through the streets and from house to house, rattling chains and bells.
The bells would announce Belsnickel's approach and that of his retinue before they would come into view. If the children were good, they received some fruit or sweets, but if they were bad--or doubted the "reality" of Belsnickel--they got a switch!
Dr. Elmer Peters of Brookville, Franklin County testified to that: "Belsnickel came--at times with Christkindl played by a gentle woman. When some of the teenage boys denied the existence of Belsnickel, the usually sturdy helper of St. Nikolaus grabbed the doubting Thomas and gave him a good whipping with his stick--which was great entertainment for the older folks." ("You Better Believe in Belsnickel!", in Eb. Reichmann's Hoosier German Tales (1991), 80.

Now I do know a little bit about Zwarte Piet, a popular figure to folks in the Netherlands since we visit there quite often and I have a Zwarte Piet and Sinterklaas ornament.  I find it quite interesting that somewhere once these traditions met in the new USA they joined forces, see above about how Belsnickle may have a retinue of Black Peters with him in Indiana near the turn of the previous century.
Black Peter, or Zwarte Piet in Dutch, began in Holland in the 15th century. His dark appearance is supposed to suggest a Spaniard, a reflection of Spain's occupation of the Netherlands at the time. Black Peter was also associated with pirates, a common threat to naughty Dutch children was that he would take them to a pirate's hide out and beat them. He was often represented holding a large stick for this purpose. The large bag that he held was rumored to be used for stuffing children in for the trip back to Spain. At the time "Black Peter" was a euphemism for the devil, and it was thought that St. Nicholas, being a representative of God, had beaten the devil and made him his servant. Thus it fell to Black Peter to hand out the punishments, while St. Nicholas dealt with the more pleasant sides of Christmas.

Although where I lived, St. Nicholas worked alone, and he would mete out his own judgements whether you’d been naughty or nice.  I found an image that illustrates Santa working alone on punishing the naughty child himself:
Ho Ho Ho, huh?  I understood the sticks, switches of course to beat you with of course, but I always wondered why you’d get a lump of coal if you were bad.  Anyone know? Also apparently in some places he would leave naughty kids potatoes, again, a practical gift especially if you were hungry a potato would be a great gift.

I found that today, people still are having their imaginations inspired by these folk creatures, such as this interesting image I found:
The first origin of Zwarte Piet can probably found by the god Wodan (often written as Odin). Riding the white horse Sleipnir he flew through the air and was the leader of the Wild Hunt. He was always accompanied by two black ravens, Huginn and Muninn. Those helpers would listen, just like Zwarte Piet, at the chimney - which was just a hole in the roof at that time - to tell Wodan about the good and bad behaviours of the mortals.[2][3][4] During the ChristianizationPope Gregory I argued that conversions were easier if people were allowed to retain the outward forms of their traditions, while claiming that the traditions were in honour of the Christian God. Saint Nicolas tradition is one of them, converting Wodan to a Christian counterpart.[5]

Zwarte Piet always seems more like a gentle foil for St. Nick, but we will find out more about some of Santa's other helpers in the next instalment [coming soon].

There seems to be quite a lot of bad boys who accompanied St. Nick, the more I find reference to, the more I find.  I realise now how essential a polar opposite seemed to be in the St. Nick folklore.  Just like Krampus I knew nothing of these dark sidekicks until this year. It seems that maybe all the bleaching of our European traditions has gone some to eradicate these guys, but I ask you, should we really ignore them?  

Should they really be forgotten? 

Is there a need for these fiendish friends of Santa in our culture? 
 A DARK FIGURE hides behind the grinning countenance of Ole’ Saint Nick.  Sometimes he rides on a white horse, and sometimes he is accompanied by fairies or men in blackface dressed as old women.  Sometimes he is in rags and a long black beard, and sometimes he is covered in fur with the horns of a goat and a long red tongue.  He is just one of the many murderers and child molesters that make up Santa Claus’ posse. 

Truth is, Jolly Santa’s “companions” are a hodgepodge assortment of rough-and-tumble characters; assorted fiends with sordid pasts and nightmarish agendas.  The companions travel with St. Nicholas or his various equivalents (Father Christmas, Santa Claus), carrying with them a rod (sometimes a stick, a mace, switchblade, sythe, revolver, a magic top hat, rusty chains, a birch branch, bundle of switches or a whip, and in modern times often a broom) and a sack.
They are sometimes dressed in black rags, bearing a black face and unruly black hair. In many contemporary portrayals the companions look like dark, sinister, or rustic versions of Nicholas himself, with a similar costume but with a darker color scheme.

The Père Fouettard (French for The whipping Father) is a character who accompanies St. Nicholas in his rounds during St. Nicholas' Day (6 December) dispensing lumps of coal and/or floggings to the naughty children while St. Nick gives gifts to the well behaved.[1] He is known mainly in the Eastern regions of France, although similar characters exist all over Europe (see Companions of Saint Nicholas). This "Whipping Father" was said to bring a whip with him to spank all of the naughty kids who misbehaved.
Père Fouettard is found in France and Luxembourg, where he's known as Housécker. He is the evil butcher who was forever condemned to follow St. Nicolas as a punishment for luring the little lost children into his shop. His name doesn't translate well, but means "Mr. Bogeyman," "spanking," or "switches."

One version of the story tells of a famine in the land and three young boys who become lost while out searching the fields for food missed by the harvest. In other versions the boys simply become lost while wandering in the fields. As night begins to descend they spy a butcher's shop and knock on the door seeking shelter for the night. The butcher opens the door and invites them in.
But, instead of giving them food and shelter for the night, the butcher kills the boys and then hacks their bodies to pieces and throws the pieces into a barrel of brine (salt water) along with a butchered pig that he is preserving in the brine. His intention, of course, is to increase his profit by including the boys' remains as part of the pork he is selling.

Some time later there is another knock at the door and when the butcher opens the door he sees St. Nicholas standing in the doorway. 
St. Nicholas makes his way to the barrel and tells the three boys to arise and come to him. All three are immediately made whole and come to life. Stepping out of the barrel, the boys spoke of being asleep and dreaming of Heaven. Watching from his position by the doorway, the butcher suddenly became remorseful and repentant for what he had done. St. Nicholas assured him that God forgave all sinners who repented regardless of the sin.
Feeling both ashamed for what he had done and gratitude toward St. Nicholas for undoing the damage resulting from his crime, the butcher chose to follow St. Nicholas from the shop and has been at the saint's side through the ages, not as the slave or servant of the saint but as a loyal follower showing his gratitude by helping where he can.

[This is in French]

The companion of the French St. Nicholas, Père Fouettard, is said to be the butcher of three children.  St. Nicholas discovered the murder and resurrected the three children. He also shamed Père Fouettard, who, in repentance, became a servant of St. Nicholas. Fouettard travels with the saint and punishes naughty children by whipping them. 

Ruprecht  or Knecht Ruprecht is St. Nicholas' most familiar attendant in Germany. He is a servant and helper whose face is sooty from going down chimneys leaving children's treats. He carries the sack of presents and a rod for disobedient children. "Just wait until Ruprecht comes" is still a common threat in German homes.

Originally a farm hand, Ruprecht is known as Hanstrapp or Rupelz in the French region of Alsace. In Germany there are many different characters: Krampus in Southern Germany, Pelzebock or Pelznickel in the North-West, Hans Muff in Rhineland, Bartel or the Wild Bear in Silesia, Gumphinkel with a bear in Hesse, Buttenmandl in Bavaria, or Black Pit close to the Dutch border. In the Palatinate both Nicholas and his attendant may be known as Stappklos, the plodder and grumbler. 

According to some legends, St. Nicholas had a servent.  His name was Knecht Ruprecht.  When St. Nicholas and Ruprecht come to the door, the children are asked to perform tricks, such as dancing or singing.  Good children will receive gifts from St. Nicholas.  Bad children will be beaten by Ruprecht.  If they are really naughty, they will be carried off by him in his sack.  Parents would leave sticks to warn their children to be good, and they would tell them that Ruprecht will take them away if they are really bad.
 I have never been a huge fan of  the traditional Christmas story of Saint Nicholas making toys for every good boys and girl in the world.  True, I love the fruits of his labor but I always felt something was missing. Like we were only told half of the story. Today, I found out we were only told half of the story. Did you ever wonder what happened to the bad children and come to think of it what about the bad adults?  Have you ever heard of Krampus?
December 6th, was Krampusnacht, a holiday celebrated in Alpine regions of Germany and Austria. 
The festival’s roots stretch back into pre-Christian times when Germanic mountain folk paid homage to Krampus the child-stealing demon of winter darkness. Krampus was a hell-sent god with goat’s horns, coarse black fur, and a fanged maw. He would visit disobedient or inattentive children and beat them with a cruel flail before tearing them to bits with his claws (in fact “Krampus” means “claw” in old high German).  
The demon would then carry the dismembered bodies back to the underworld and devour the human flesh at his leisure.
In Austria the feast of St. Nicolas brings together all sorts of characters that appear to come from hell. Santaklos (Nikolo, or Niglo Klos) through the streets, accompanied by "Krampus". The Krampus masks are of the devil and a big fur coat. Saint Nicolas asked the children whether they know their prayers and distributes nuts, apples, oranges and even gifts. In other places, is accompanied by Santaklos characters covered with straw, with long antennae, "the Schab." They perform the "Nikolospiele" Games of Saint Nicolas

--- DUENDE---
Not only does Santa have his dark cronies but the cronies in some places have their own servants, the Duende.

A “duende” is a gnome or goblin that lives under the stairs. The “duende” according to myth appears because of an evocation given by someone nearby. It is physical entity that allegedly manifests because of emotional stress. The duende is a demonic earth spirit much like the earth spirits of the dark nights like Krampus and Belsnickel. Those who see a “duende” are soon to have a death in the family.
It is also believed the “duende” can hide in your shoes and enter your body through the soles of your feet. It is interesting that the gnomes of European Christmas lore would have some fascination with shoes and stockings. For years the gnomes were believed to be sniffing around chimneys where children would dry their stockings.
There have been countless times in everybody’s day to day experience where they would lose a sock or even underwear in the dryer. People joking say that it is the work of the “sock gnomes.” Everyone may joke about it, however it seems as though the mystery dates back some 400 years ago on those dark nights by the fire at Christmas time.
A duende is a fairy- or goblin-like mythological creature from Iberian, Latin American and Filipino folklore. While its nature varies throughout Spain, Portugal, Spanish and Portuguese-speaking America and the Philippines
Just like Venom to Spiderman, Dr. Moriarty to Sherlock Holmes and Magneto to Dr. Xavier, Schmutzli is a more sinister counter point to the good that Santa represents.
The answer to how this tradition came about is once again representative of another classic battle between Christianity and paganism. Originally it was a pagan ritual called Perchten which involved good spirits driving out the bad old spirits. With Samichlaus taking the Christian "good" role Schmutzli some how managed to evolve into the dark figure.

Samichlaus is not Santa Claus however and the celebration of "St Nicolas Day"is on the 6th of December, while both Christmas and St Nicolas Day both have the same origins they take on different forms, with the latter having much more in common with its original tradition of paganism than its commercialised American brother.
Schmutzli is nearly always all brown: dressed in brown, with brown hair and beard, and a face darkened with lard and soot. He is St. Nicholas' helper in Switzerland. He carries a switch and sack, but no longer uses them. Children used to be told that Schmutzli would beat naughty children with the switch and carry them off in the sack to gobble them up in the woods. Today there is very little talk of beatings and kidnappings.
Perchten are in the Alpine tradition occurring forms, which occur mainly in December and January. Your name probably derives from the mythical figure of Perchta from. Another theory on naming assumes that the concept of Epiphany , Epiphany on 6 January is derived.
The Perchten embody two general groups, the "good" Schönperchten, and the "bad" Schiechperchten ( . obdt Schieche, schiach extremely stressed at i: ugly, bad, evil). Perchten important tool of the bell, after the popular interpretation of the winter - or the evil spirits of winter - is to be expelled ( out the winter , or expulsion of the old year). The visit of Perchten is sometimes held up in the vernacular as auspicious omen. The extent to which Perchtenlauf really goes back to pagan rites, is controversial.
Before the last Raunacht the Magi to Schiachperchten and Schönperchten exorcise the horrors of the winter.  With drumbeats, fog and stake demonstrates the Perchten an impressive spectacle, which causes the viewer alternately creepy and fascinating.

--- NACKLES---

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