Belsnickel

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Man dressed as a modern Belsnickel in his travel attire on his way to scare children in the schools in Norwich, New York. December 2012. Belsnickel in Modern Day Travel Attire.JPG
Man dressed as a modern Belsnickel in his travel attire on his way to scare children in the schools in Norwich, New York. December 2012.

Belsnickel (also Belschnickel, Belznickle, Belznickel, Pelznikel, Pelznickel, from pelzen (or belzen, German for to wallop or to drub [1] ) 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. [2]

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.

Christmas gift-bringer Type of folkloric Christmas figures

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.

Palatinate (region) geographic region

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.

Contents

Cultural perspective

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. [3] Unlike those figures, Belsnickel does not accompany Saint Nicholas but instead visits alone [3] and combines both the threatening and the benign aspects which in other traditions are divided between the Saint Nicholas and the companion figure.

Companions of Saint Nicholas

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 companion of Saint Nicholas in the folklore of Germany

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.

Mask any full or partial face covering, whether ceremonial, protective, decorative, or used as disguise

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.

Tongue Muscular organ in the mouth

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.

Switch (corporal punishment) form of corporal punishment

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, Maryland County in Maryland

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. [4]

Outside Europe

The Belsnickel character originated in the Palatinate. When people immigrated to Pennsylvania, they brought their German traditions with them. [5] Belsnickel was known in Pennsylvania in the early 1800s. [3] 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. [6] 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. [7]

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. [3]

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. [8]

The tradition also exists in parts of Newfoundland (see mummering), Nova Scotia, [9] the prairie provinces of Canada and some communities in the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina. [10]

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." [11]

Stoudt's Brewing Company of Adamstown, Pennsylvania, brews a seasonal dark lager called "Belsnickle". [12] Otto's Pub and Brewery of State College, Pennsylvania, brews a "Belsnickle" ale. [13]

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. [14]

See also

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References

  1. "Schunk, Gunther. "Pelzmärtel und Herrscheklaus"" (PDF). Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  2. "Belsnickel Christmas Tradition - Story, Legends". www.indobase.com. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  3. 1 2 3 4 "The Next Page: Meet Belsnickel, the Counter Claus". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  4. Jacob Brown, Brown's Miscellaneous Writings, Printed by J.J. Miller (Cumberland, Maryland 1896), page 41.
  5. The history of Belsnickel: Santa's cranky cousin Lauer-Williams, Kathy. "The history of Belsnickel: Santa's cranky cousin", The Morning Call, Allentown, Pennsylvania, November 29, 2013]
  6. Kline, Dave. "Yes, Helen there is a Belsnickel", Berks County, Reading Eagle Retrieved 31 January 2013
  7. 'Notes and Queries', volume 8 (217), 24 December 1853, p.615 The article is signed 'Uneda', one of the pen-names used by contributor William Duane (1808-1882) of Philadelphia.
  8. "BELSNICKEL IN INDIANA". www.mrshea.com.
  9. "Nova Scotia Belsnickling is real — and here's a photo to prove it - CBC Radio" . Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  10. "Sociedade do Pelznickel". pelznickel.blogspot.com. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  11. Barron, Hilda. "Father Christmas." The Times [London, England] 23 December 1942: p. 5.
  12. ""Belsnickel Lager", Stoudt's Brewing Company, Adamstown, Pennsylvania". Archived from the original on 23 March 2016. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  13. "Craft Beer in State College, PA - Drafts On Tap At Otto's Pub & Brewery". Otto's Pub & Brewery. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  14. Ehrlich, Helen (29 December 2018). "Yes, Belsnickel is a Real Thing, and No, it's Not Just from 'The Office'".