Tuesday, December 6, 2011
A venerable Christmas Yule tradition from Germany that you may never have heard of involves the "proto-Santa" known as Der Belsnickel; while popular belief in this rather harsh "Saint Nick with a switch" figure died out long ago, the memory and tradition of Der Belsnickel actually remained in my family when I was growing up (mostly because my mom was very keen, thankfully, on teaching my sister and myself about folklore and myth in all forms and varieties; that right there is a key piece to the puzzle of how I became a gamer, fyi!)
On December 6th Der Belsnickel visits the houses of good and bad children alike, who depending on regional tradition may wait for a man dressed as Der Belsnickel to arrive and enter the domicile, where upon they may receive treats if they have been good, or coal plus a sound switching if they have been bad. The Witch is Me is a great blog which has a fantastic overview of the specifics of Der Belsnickel in myth and lore, along with his somewhat more disturbing counterpart, Black Peter, and so I direct you to her web page for a fine account of the mythology.
To kick off December, I figured I'd remind everyone that there was once a time when Der Belsnickel might bring coal as well as gifts, a switch and a warning as well as good tidings....and that he in turn was an aggregate of a much older pagan tradition, to which Saint Nicholas (my patron saint!) was wedded long ago, and which extends back to much older pagan folklore and traditions such as the Sinterklaas, Tomte, and perhaps even Odin.