Hailing from Germany, Belsnickel is a creepy looking figure. Covered in patchworked rags to keep his identity secret, he also wears furs and carries a switch with which to threaten children. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Belsnickel stops by the doors of households with children and threatens the kids whom have been behaving poorly this year one last time that if they don't straighten up they'll not only not get presents, but a good beating from Belsnickel himself.
The Elf on the ShelfBased on the book, The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition by Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bel, illustrated by Coë Steinwart. Now, aside from the fact you can't call something new "a tradition", The Elf on the Shelf is the latest trick for Parents to keep children well-behaved during the winter months (if not throughout the year). A mix of the yule lads and Belsnickel (only without the corporal punishment), the story goes that Santa sends out his little helpers--who apparently haven't worked enough through the year making toys for all the good kinder of the world--to all the households of the world to keep an eye on the kids in the final days building up to Christmas. Each day, the elf appears in a different part of the house to monitor and report back to the jolly old fat man, in case Timmy and Tiffany aren't really staying on their best behavior.
Not to mention it's creepy as all hell. LOOK AT IT.
Part of the tradition of Elf on the Shelf, is that he pulls pranks and does cute and creative things. However, despite the fun and mischief he provides, children are forbidden from touching him. For if they do, he will lose all his magical powers and not be able to report back to Santa. On one hand, that seems like a great idea if you are naughty because then Santa can never truly know. On the other hand, it is rather damning circumstantial evidence.
Here's a blog dedicated to "creative" Elf in the Shelf ideas, but mostly it's just a blog of creepy.
Krampus (whose name comes from the Germanic root for "claw") dates back long before the time of Christ, but in modern day is more or less the ultimate Christmas demon, the companion and antithesis of Santa Claus ("Old Nick" to "Saint Nick", as the good people of Krampus.com put it).
While American kids never feared a lack of shiny new presents no matter their behavioral tendencies, children of the Old World, especially Germany, knew something worse than a lump of coal was coming their way if they misbehaved (a lump of coal in snowy Germany might actually be a good gift, in fact). Rather, if you weren't well behaved you were beaten and tortured before being kidnapped and taken to the Krampus' lair, where I can only assume one was beaten and tortured some more.
In modern days, there appears to be two sides on how to handle the Krampus story.Since the 1950s Austrians have tried to put the creature on the back burner, claiming terrorizing small children with such tales isn't healthy. While in the Germanic city of Schlanders (Silandro, Italy), young men are even encouraged to dress up as the Krampus and terrorize small children, before having some Schnapps with the heads of the house. Because that's not messed up. Not at all. Elsewhere still, the Krampus is given his own holiday prior to the Feast of St. Nicholas known as Krampusnacht, and even appears on his own holiday greeting card, known as Krampuskarten
Black Peter (known to natives of the Netherlands as Zwarte Piet) may appear rather tame in theory: he does, after all, give sweets and presents to good little boys and girls and is a companion of Sinterklaas (that is, Saint Nicoholas. The insidiousness of Black Pete comes in the fact that he is a racial stereotype by the lily white natives of the Netherlands and Belgium. Although modern attempts to be politically correct have claimed that the reason for the naming of "black" in Peter's name comes from his occupation as a chimney sweep, the physical appearance says otherwise. Black-face make up, exaggerated red lips, and thick, Brillo-y hair.
Bob Clampett would be proud!
It should also be noted that Pete accompanies Sinterklaas on his journey from Spain, meaning he is likely a moor (you know, like that Othello guy from Shakespeare), as suggested by Jan Schenkaman inSaint Nicholas and His Servant.
In attempts to downplay the racist background of the character to foreign tourists, the Dutch have tried having the person playing Zwarte Pieten instead paint himself in a variety of colors. This didn't set well with those rooted in the tradition, and he has since returned to his black face roots. In recent years, the backlash returned from figures from other cultures, which has forced the local governments to downplay and rethink Zwarte Piet's role in the winter celebrations.
13 Yule Lads
The sons of Gryla and her troll husband Leppalúði, the Yule Lads come in and run around the town in a backwards "12 days of Christmas". The Yule Lads show up one at a time on the 13 days building up to Christmas Day, each staying two weeks, so that the first Lad who arrived on December 12th is the first to depart on Christmas Day. The remaining brothers then leave one a day in the same order they arrived until festivities end on January 6th.While in modern versions of the story, they are mostly just mischievous creatures, pulling harmless pranks, such as slamming doors and eating the towns yogurt supply (no joke), the original story of the lads was far more sinister (as you may have guessed given their presence on this list).
As in the modern story, they come down from dwellings in the mountains in the days leading up to Christmas day, however, rather than pulling the regular prank or trick, they--along with the Yuletide Cat--keep an eye on all the children, and kidnap those who did not receive any new clothes during the season so they can be eaten. So be grateful for those new socks!
As you know, making sure all the children of the world get what's coming to them at the end of the year is quite an enterprise, which is no doubt why Santa has everyone from elves making toys for the good kids, to demons kidnapping the mean-spirited ones helping him out. But what about those kids who were neither particularly good, nor particularly bad? For them, the Germans (as always) give us Knech Ruprecht, also known as Farmhand Rupert. He more or less looks like a shepherd taken out of your neighborhood nativity who sports a long beard, brown cloak and a staff.
Basically his schtick is that he goes around asking kids if they can pray. If they can, they get some awesome gingerbread. If they can't, he gives them some useless junk, and if they refuse, he beats them with a bag of ashes. Like you do. So children better remember the "reason for the season" is the baby Jesus and not just the changes in the seasons, or else they'll either receive some crappy presents or get beaten with some ashes.
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