Saturday, January 9

Little Difference #17

Little Difference #17 - St. Nicholas and his scary sidekicks

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 he
ads, 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
1953 Le Père Fouettard - via Wikipedia

I'd love to hear about your experiences with St. Nicholas's sinister servants. Leave a comment

Here is a list of links I used to write this post.

Wikipedia - Zwarte Piet
Wikipedia - Krampus
Wikipedia - Belsnickel
Wikipedia - Companions of St. Nicholas
Wikipedia - Knecht Ruprecht
Wikipedia - La Pere Fouettard
Wikipedia - Hans Trapp
Christmastime in Alsace


This Girl loves to Talk said...

Just before Christmas there was a documentary on Santa Claus on TV.. was very interesting.. and they mentioned the Black Peters and the one with horns.. it was good to see where all these things came from.

Teacher Tom said...

My wife grew up in Austria and has a very upsetting story she tells about being in the hospital with kidney stones one year over Christmas. She was not prepared for the "Krampus" who visited the children's ward, apparently showing up first without St. Nick to temper him.

It's interesting to me that this character didn't find its way across the Atlantic with Santa. It reminds me of the way Disney has taken much of the "morals" out of the Grimm fairy tales (e.g., in the original Cinderella, the story ends with the stepsisters having their eyes pecked out by birds).

Europeans, or at least the European tradition, seem much more comfortable with the good-evil pairing. We seem to often dump the evil part.

katy said...

This Girl: I'm sure I'd enjoy seeing that documentary. It is always interesting to figure out where traditions come from.

Tom: Your comment is so timely. I just read my oldest (nearly 6) The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson (well, an adapted version - not Disney)At the end, when the mermaid did NOT end up marrying the prince but instead chose to have a soul, Eva burst into tears. Saying, "But she HAS to marry the prince." I explained that Disney changed the ending to the movie because they like happy endings. I think she sorta got it. Then I thought I'd cheer her up with the Matchstick Girl (one I'm not familiar with) who ends up freezing to death on the street. Ha.

suddenly sahm said...

whoa. those dudes are freaking scary!

likeschocolate said...

It is funny how all over Europe this side kick guy has different names. In Germany he is called Rupreshknesch. Spelling wrong, but I spelled it phonetically. In Switzerland he is called something else, but I am also drawing a blank right now on hwat he is called. Love this section of difference. So true! How about paid toilets that is a good one and in some places it can get steep such as in Germany it is 1 euro in some trainstations. Ouch!

Jessica said...

Those sidekicks are pretty scary!!

DesignTies said...

Wow, those sinister Santa sidekicks are creepy!! I'll take elves any day!!

Sure, you're welcome to use one of my hanging Santa pictures for your post :-) I had to laugh every time I saw one of them :-)

I had a fabulous time on our trip to Luxembourg & Belgium. I really want to go back, maybe even live there for a year or two :-)

The colourful Christmas trees are from a store in Bruges. I think it's called At Home.


Road Trippers said...

wow, my kids would FREAK.

Monkey's Mama said...

Check out Kristi's post on Santa (mentioning black pete)

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