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Belsnickel (also Belschnickel, Belznickle, Belznickel, Pelznikel, Pelznickel, from pelzen (or belzen, German for to wallop or to drub) and Nickel being a hypocorism of the given name Nikolaus) is a crotchety, fur-clad Christmas gift-bringer figure in the folklore of the Palatinate region of southwestern Germany along the Rhine, the Saarland, and the Odenwald area of Baden-Württemberg. The figure is also preserved in Pennsylvania Dutch communities.
A hypocorism, also called a hypocoristicon, is a diminutive form of a name. Hypocorisms include pet names or calling names, often a diminutive or augmentative form of a word or given name when used as a nickname or term of endearment.
A number of Midwinter or Christmas traditions in European folklore involve gift-bringers. Mostly involving the figure of a bearded old man, the traditions have mutually influenced one another, and have adopted aspects from Christian hagiography, even before the modern period. In Slavic countries, the figure is mostly Father Frost. In Scandinavia, it is an elf-like figure or tomten who comes at Yule . In Western Europe, the figure was also similar to an elf, developing into Father Christmas in the modern period in Great Britain. In German-speaking Europe and Latin Europe, it became associated with the Christian Saint Nicholas.
The Palatinate, historically also Rhenish Palatinate, is a region in southwestern Germany. It occupies roughly the southernmost quarter of the German federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz), covering an area of 5,451 square kilometres (2,105 sq mi) with about 1.4 million inhabitants. Its residents are known as Palatines.
Belsnickel is related to other companions of Saint Nicholas in the folklore of German-speaking Europe. He may have been based on an older German myth, Knecht Ruprecht, a servant of Saint Nicholas and a character from northern Germany.Unlike those figures, Belsnickel does not accompany Saint Nicholas but instead visits alone and combines both the threatening and the benign aspects which in other traditions are divided between the Saint Nicholas and the companion figure.
The companions of Saint Nicholas are a group of closely related figures who accompany Saint Nicholas throughout the territories formerly in the Holy Roman Empire or the countries that it influenced culturally. These characters act as a foil to the benevolent Christmas gift-bringer, threatening to thrash or abduct disobedient children. Jacob Grimm associated this character with the pre-Christian house spirit which could be benevolent or malicious, but whose mischievous side was emphasized after Christianization. The association of the Christmas gift-bringer with elves has parallels in English and Scandinavian folklore, and is ultimately and remotely connected to the modern Christmas elf in American folklore.
Knecht Ruprecht is a companion of Saint Nicholas as described in the folklore of Germany. He first appears in written sources in the 17th century, as a figure in a Nuremberg Christmas procession.
Belsnickel is a man wearing furs and sometimes a mask with a long tongue. He is typically very ragged and disheveled. He wears torn, tattered, and dirty clothes, and he carries a switch in his hand with which to beat naughty children, but also pocketsful of cakes, candies, and nuts for good children.
A mask is an object normally worn on the face, typically for protection, disguise, performance, or entertainment. Masks have been used since antiquity for both ceremonial and practical purposes, as well as in the performing arts and for entertainment. They are usually worn on the face, although they may also be positioned for effect elsewhere on the wearer's body.
The tongue is a muscular organ in the mouth of most vertebrates that manipulates food for mastication, and is used in the act of swallowing. It has importance in the digestive system and is the primary organ of taste in the gustatory system. The tongue's upper surface (dorsum) is covered by taste buds housed in numerous lingual papillae. It is sensitive and kept moist by saliva, and is richly supplied with nerves and blood vessels. The tongue also serves as a natural means of cleaning the teeth. A major function of the tongue is the enabling of speech in humans and vocalization in other animals.
A switch is a flexible rod which is typically used for corporal punishment, similar to birching.
A first-hand 19th-century account of the "Beltznickle" tradition in Allegany County, Maryland, can be found in Brown's Miscellaneous Writings, a collection of essays by Jacob Brown (born 1824). Writing of a period around 1830, Brown says, "we did not hear of" Santa Claus. Instead, the tradition called for a visit by a different character altogether:
Allegany County is located in the northwestern part of the U.S. state of Maryland. As of the 2010 census, the population was 75,087. Its county seat is Cumberland. The name Allegany may come from a local Lenape word, welhik hane or oolikhanna, which means 'best flowing river of the hills' or 'beautiful stream'. A number of counties in the Appalachian region of the US are named Allegany, Allegheny, or Alleghany.
He was known as Kriskinkle, Beltznickle and sometimes as the Christmas woman. Children then not only saw the mysterious person, but felt him or rather his stripes upon their backs with his switch. The annual visitor would make his appearance some hours after dark, thoroughly disguised, especially the face, which would sometimes be covered with a hideously ugly phiz - generally wore a female garb - hence the name Christmas woman - sometimes it would be a veritable woman but with masculine force and action. He or she would be equipped with an ample sack about the shoulders filled with cakes, nuts, and fruits, and a long hazel switch which was supposed to have some kind of a charm in it as well as a sting. One would scatter the goodies upon the floor, and then the scramble would begin by the delighted children, and the other hand would ply the switch upon the backs of the excited youngsters - who would not show a wince, but had it been parental discipline there would have been screams to reach a long distance.
The Belsnickel character originated in the Palatinate. When people immigrated to Pennsylvania, they brought their German traditions with them.Belsnickel was known in Pennsylvania in the early 1800s. Amongst the Pennsylvania Germans, Belsnickel is the character who visits homes prior to Christmas to check up on the behavior of the children. The traditional Belsnickel showed up at houses 1–2 weeks before Christmas and often created fright because he always knew exactly which of the children misbehaved. He would rap on the door or window with his stick and often the children would have to answer a question for him or sing some type of song. In exchange he would toss candies onto the floor. If the children jumped too quick for the treats, they may end up getting struck with Belsnickel's switch.
An 1853 article in a British magazine describing Pennsylvanian customs refers to "Pelsnichol, or Nicholas with the fur, alluding to the dress of skins in which he is said to be clad. Some make Pelsnichol identical with Krishkinkle, but the more general opinion is that they are two personages, one the rewarder of the good, the other the punisher of the bad." According to this article, Pelsnichol merely leaves a birch rod in the stockings of naughty children.
There are two versions of Belsnickel, the rural and the urban characters. Both are described in the book, Christmas in Pennsylvania: a folk cultural study, by Alfred L. Shoemaker and Don Yoder. The tradition fell into decline toward the end of the nineteenth century, but has seen a revival in recent years.
The tradition of Belsnickel was brought to Indiana by immigrants from the Palatinate. His garb could vary from one locality to another. He might 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. In this branch of the tradition, the father or other older male relative was often "busy working outside" or had to see to some matter elsewhere in the house when Pelznickel (or Belsnickel) arrived. "Belsnickling" or "Klausentreiben," was the "running" of groups of young men or youth dressed in false faces and fantastic costumes on "Belsnickle Night", the eve of the Feast of St. Nicholas" (St. Nikolaustag), and was the occasion of good-natured boisterousness. Young men, dressed in skins and furs, would move through the streets of town or village, rattling chains and bells.
The tradition also exists in parts of Newfoundland (see mummering), Nova Scotia,the prairie provinces of Canada and some communities in the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina.
A writer to the letters column of The Times refers to an illustration of "Pelz-Nickel" in a book by English author Harriet Myrtle, The Little Sister (1851). German illustrator H.J. Schneider depicts him "in a long cloak, pointed hood, a fur round his neck, with a long white beard, and a big bag."
Stoudt's Brewing Company of Adamstown, Pennsylvania, brews a seasonal dark lager called "Belsnickle".Otto's Pub and Brewery of State College, Pennsylvania, brews a "Belsnickle" ale.
The antagonist of the John R. Neill book The Scalawagons of Oz , the thirty-fifth entry in the Oz series created by L. Frank Baum, is a mysterious monstrosity called Bell-snickle. It first appears as "a large bluish-green object, flat as a buckwheat cake, and rolling along on its edge like a cartwheel." The creature does have arms and legs, as well as facial features; it wears bells on its ears, explaining at least one portion of its name. The creature has the egotism and petulance of a spoiled child.[ citation needed ]
In "Dwight Christmas", a season nine episode of The Office , Dwight Schrute dresses as Belsnickel and spends a significant portion of the episode deciding if his co-workers were impish or admirable at the company Christmas party.
Father Christmas is the traditional English name for the personification of Christmas. Although now known as a Christmas gift-bringer, and normally considered to be synonymous with American culture's Santa Claus which is now known worldwide, he was originally part of an unrelated and much older English folkloric tradition. The recognisably modern figure of the English Father Christmas developed in the late Victorian period, but Christmas had been personified for centuries before then.
Old ale is a term commonly applied to dark, malty beers in England, generally above 5% ABV, also to dark ales of any strength in Australia. Sometimes associated with stock ale or, archaically, keeping ale, in which the beer is held at the brewery.
Sinterklaas or Sint-Nicolaas is a legendary figure based on Saint Nicholas, patron saint of children. Other names for the figure include De Sint, De Goede Sint, and De Goedheiligman in Dutch; Saint Nicolas in French; Sinteklaas in West Frisian; Sinterklaos in Limburgs; Saint-Nikloi in West Flemish; and Kleeschen and Zinniklos in Luxembourgish.
Saint Nicholas Day, or the Feast of Saint Nicholas, observed on December 5/6 in Western Christian countries and December 19 in Eastern Christian countries on the Old Calendar, is the feast day of Saint Nicholas. It is celebrated as a Christian festival with particular regard to his reputation as a bringer of gifts, as well as through the attendance of Mass or other worship services. In Europe, especially in "Germany and Poland, boys would dress as bishops begging alms for the poor." In Ukraine, children wait for St. Nicholas to come and to put a present under their pillows provided that the children were good during the year. Children who behaved badly may expect to find a twig or a piece of coal under their pillows. In the Netherlands, Dutch children put out a clog filled with hay and a carrot for Saint Nicholas' horse. On Saint Nicholas Day, gifts are tagged with personal humorous rhymes written by the sender. In the United States, one custom associated with Saint Nicholas Day is children leaving their shoes in the foyer on Saint Nicholas Eve in hope that Saint Nicholas will place some coins on the soles.
A Christmas stocking is an empty sock or sock-shaped bag that is hung on Saint Nicholas Day or Christmas Eve so that Saint Nicholas can fill it with small toys, candy, fruit, coins or other small gifts when he arrives. These small items are often referred to as stocking stuffers or stocking fillers. The tradition of the Christmas stocking is thought to originate from the life of Saint Nicholas. In some Christmas stories, the contents of the Christmas stocking are the only toys the child receives at Christmas from Santa Claus; in other stories, some presents are also wrapped up in wrapping paper and placed under the Christmas tree. Tradition in Western culture threatens that a child who behaves badly during the year will receive only a piece or pile of coal. Some people even put their Christmas stocking by their bedposts so Santa Claus can fill it by the bed while they sleep.
Christmas traditions vary from country to country. Christmas celebrations for many nations include the installing and lighting of Christmas trees, the hanging of Advent wreaths, Christmas stockings, candy canes, setting out cookies and milk, and the creation of Nativity scenes depicting the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas carols may be sung and stories told about such figures as the Baby Jesus, St Nicholas, Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Christkind or Grandfather Frost. The sending and exchange of Christmas card greetings, observance of fasting and special religious observances such as a midnight Mass or Vespers on Christmas Eve, the burning of a Yule log, and the giving and receiving of presents. Along with Easter, Christmas is one of the most important periods on the Christian calendar, and is often closely connected to other holidays at this time of year, such as Advent, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, St Nicholas Day, St. Stephen's Day, New Year's, and the Feast of the Epiphany.
Père Noël, "Father Christmas", sometimes called Papa Noël, is a legendary gift-bringer at Christmas in France and other French-speaking areas, identified with the Father Christmas and/or Santa Claus of English-speaking territories. Though they were traditionally different, all of them are now the same character, with different names, and the shared characteristics of a red outfit, workshop at the North Pole, and team of reindeer.
Ded Moroz is a fictional character similar to that of Father Christmas and Santa Claus and has its roots in Slavic paganism mythology. The tradition of Ded Moroz is mostly spread in East Slavic countries and is an important part of Russian culture. Although at the beginning of the Soviet era communists banned Ded Moroz he soon became an important part of the Soviet culture. The literal translation is "Grandfather Frost".
The Christkind is the traditional Christmas gift-bringer in Austria, Switzerland, southern and western Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Croatia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Belgium, Portugal, Slovakia, Hungary, parts of northeastern France, Upper Silesia in Poland, parts of Hispanic America, in certain areas of southern Brazil, Quebec in Canada, and in the Acadiana region of Louisiana. In some parts of Italy, the analogous figure of the Christkind is known as Gesù Bambino, however Santa Claus is the traditional bearer of Christmas gifts. Christkind is called in Portuguese Menino Jesus, in Hungarian Jézuska, in Slovak Ježiško, in Czech Ježíšek, in Latin America Niño Dios or Niño Jesús and in Croatian Isusić or Isusek.
Julemanden can be directly translated to "The Yule-Man" or "The Christmas-man". He is often illustrated as a short, bearded man dressed in gray clothes and a red hat.
Jul or jol is the term used for the Christmas holiday season in Scandinavia and parts of Scotland. Originally, "jul" was the name of a month in the old Germanic calendar. The concept of "jul" as a period of time rather than a specific event prevailed in Scandinavia; in modern times, "Jul" is a period of time stretching from mid-November to mid-January, with Christmas and the week up to New Year as its highlight. The modern English yule and yuletide derive from this term.
Père Fouettard is a character who accompanies St. Nicholas on his rounds during St. Nicholas' Day dispensing lumps of coal and/or beatings to naughty children while St. Nicholas gives gifts to the well behaved. He is known mainly in the far north and eastern regions of France, in the south of Belgium, and in French-speaking Switzerland, although similar characters exist all over Europe. This "Whipping Father" was said to bring a whip with him to spank all of the naughty children who misbehaved.
Weihnachten is the observance of what is commonly known in English as Christmas Eve in the German-speaking countries like Germany, Austria and Switzerland. It is also widespread in countries with a German-speaking minority, such as Transylvania in Romania, South Tyrol in Italy, Eupen in Belgium, and various diasporas such as the German Brazilian and German American communities. Traditions of Weihnachten influenced Christmas and Advent culture throughout the world.
Wilsecker is a municipality in the district of Bitburg-Prüm, in Rhineland-Palatinate, western Germany.
In American, Canadian, Irish, and British cultures, a Christmas elf is a diminutive elf that lives with Santa Claus at the North Pole and acts as his helper. Christmas elves are often depicted as green or red clad with large, pointy ears and pointy hats. Santa's elves are often said to make the toys in Santa's workshop and take care of his reindeer, among other tasks.
In Central European folklore, Krampus is a horned, anthropomorphic figure described as "half-goat, half-demon", who, during the Christmas season, punishes children who have misbehaved, in contrast with Saint Nicholas, who rewards the well-behaved with gifts. Krampus is one of the companions of Saint Nicholas in several regions including Austria, Bavaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Northern Italy including South Tyrol and the Province of Trento, Slovakia, and Slovenia. The origin of the figure is unclear; some folklorists and anthropologists have postulated it as having pre-Christian origins.