Everyone knows the cheerful story of Saint Nicholas (AKA- Santa Claus). No one can deny there’s a certain element of magical charm in a story about a jolly fat man who flies around the world one night each year giving out presents to every good child on the planet. No matter how impossible it may seem to accomplish such a task, Santa is the one guy to do it each and every year. Santa is a great guy, and we all love him dearly for his charitable compassion. Most of us even enjoy watching those sappy Santa-tastic holiday films this time of year, but what usually isn’t mentioned in those feel-good holiday films are Santa’s nefarious side-kicks. If you’ve never heard of these guys, be thankful your name was always on the list of good little girls and boys!
Farmhand Rupert (Knecht Ruprecht)
This figure of German folklore dates back to the 17th century (the 1600’s). Rupert, a common name for the Devil in Germanic lore, visits the homes of children on December 6, St. Nicholas Day. He arrives riding a white horse and he carries with him a long staff and a bag of ashes. Like Santa Claus, Farmhand Rupert has a long, white beard and wears a coat of fur.
When he sees a child, Rupert will stop and ask if they can pray. If the child is able to pray, they are awarded with apples, nuts and gingerbread. If the child fails to pray, they are beaten with Rupert’s bag of ashes.
Rupert is probably the least severe of Santa’s Sadistic Helpers, though he is often confused with our next sadistic little helper– Black Pete.
Black Pete (Zwarte Piet)
Similar to Farmhand Rupert (Knecht Ruprecht), Black Pete (Zwarte Piet) is the Netherland companion of “Sinterklaas” (Santa Claus). He is commonly seen in the days leading up to Saint Nicholas Day. Black Pete has the appearance and style of a Moor– an Arab or Berber conqueror of Spain.(If you’re having issues visualizing a Moor, think Morgan Freeman’s character in the Kevin Costner version of Robin Hood.)
Black Pete acts as Santa’s helper, giving away presents to good children, but also punishing the bad children. Mildly naughty children were given no gift. In lieu of a gift they were either given a roe, which is a bundle of birch sticks, or a lump of coal. If the child was moderately naughty, they suffered a good birching– that is, they were beat with a birch rod on the bare skin of their backsides. Children who were especially naughty suffered even more as they were shoved into Black Pete’s burlap sack and carried off to Spain, where Santa and Pete apparently spend the off season.
Whipfather (Le Père Fouettard)
The Whipfather is the French version of Santa’s vile companion. In this story, three young boys who are lost seek food/shelter from a butcher/innkeeper who has fallen upon hard times. Seeing that the boys are from wealthy families, the Whipfather decides to try to profit from their demise. He slits their throats and chops the boys to bits, throwing the pieces into a barrel of brine (salt water). His intent was to further the profit on a slaughtered pig, which is also being preserved in the brine. He would have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for Santa.
There’s a knock at the Whipfather’s door– Santa knows the Whipfather has murdered three innocent, young boys out of greed. Naturally, with his magic powers, Santa restores the boys’ lives and binds the Whipfather to an eternity of servitude.
Whipfather is dressed in dark clothing and wears a length of rope or chain– one could speculate and say the chains are a throw-back to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and that they represent his sins; one could also speculate and say that the chains are a physical representation of his servitude with Saint Nicholas. (I don’t know how correct either of those speculations are.) Whipfather wields a bundle of birch sticks, which he uses to beat naughty children. He is often depicted with unkempt hair and a long beard and a sinister scowl. Other images show the Whipfather carrying a bundle of switches on his back or a large wicker back pack which he uses to carry especially naughty children away to be slain.
Belsnickel and Krampus
Belsnickel comes from the area around southwestern Germany. He is similar to Krampus, but Belsnickel is more benign than his demonic counterpart because he simply scares children with his demonic looking mask and fur cloak, which covers his body. He relies purely on a reputation for being a badass– but even those stories can’t hold a candle to the evil Krampus.
Krampus, is a hairy, long-tongued devil who originated from Bavaria. Krampus has an appetite for evil and, when he finds a particularly naughty child, he will stuff the child into a sack or wrap the child in chains and drag the child to his lair in hell, where he will eat the naughty child for dinner.
So… Be good for goodness sakes or find yourself at the mercy of one of Santa’s sadistic little helpers.
* “7 Horrific Boogeymen Used To Scare Kids Around the World”, cracked.com
(Cracked’s Article was the inspiration for this bit– strong language warning)
(The above wikipedia link is taken with a grain of salt– though, luckily, all the portions I reference were cited in the article with actual, older books!)
* http://chuck.hubpages.com/hub/Father-Christmas-and-His-Assistant-Pere-Fouettard- (Whipfather – Le Père Fouettard)