Thought I'd better get this posted before the holidays are a distant memory. I have one more holiday Little Difference that I'll share too.
In my post about our trip on the St. Nicholas Train I mentioned these scary sidekicks who we referred to as Black Peter. They walked up and down the train, rattling their chains, stamping their wooden sticks and spreading fear to all children. I found them quite scary too. They evoked that primal fear that arises from the ancient part of the brain - eyes covered, hooded heads, dark clothing, armful of whipping sticks. Yikes. These sidekicks went from child to child asking if they'd been good (this is my guess. They spoke in Luxembourgish so I couldn't understand what they were actually saying.) If children answered Yes, then they were given a handful of candy and nuts. Audrey was terrified. Eva was scared, but after some explanation, encouragement from her friends, and the realization that they distribute candy she was fine with them (minus the nuts, of course.)
These sinister sidekicks were something very different for us. I can't think of anything comparable to it in American culture. Even at Halloween there isn't one specific character who traditionally appears to frighten children. And the only sidekicks the American Santa has are elves. This was definitely a little difference for us. An interesting one to be sure.
I did some research about these sidekicks (also thought of as servants to St. Nicolas.) We were referring to them as Black Peter, but I knew that wasn't quite right. Black Peter or Zwarte Piet is a jovial and friendly sidekick most popular in The Netherlands. He looks more like a jester not a grim reaper like these Luxembourgish sidekicks. After more reading, it appears that most European countries that celebrate St. Nicolas Day have a character that appears along side St. Nic. These characters are generally scary, a stark contrast to the friendly, child loving St. Nicolas. Each country has it's own name for St. Nic's companion and his appearance varies from country to country. The term, Black Peter can be used as a catch-all word for these sinister side kicks.Luxembourg's Black Peter is called Houseker. He is most similar to the Swiss, Schmutzli and the French, Le Père Fouettard (the whipping father.) There is also Krampus from Austria and Hungary - very devilish!
Zwarte Piet - via Wikipedia
I'd love to hear about your experiences with St. Nicholas's sinister servants. Leave a commentWikipedia - Zwarte Piet
Here is a list of links I used to write this post.
Wikipedia - Krampus
Wikipedia - Belsnickel
Wikipedia - Companions of St. Nicholas
Wikipedia - Knecht Ruprecht
Wikipedia - La Pere Fouettard
Wikipedia - Hans Trapp
Christmastime in Alsace