Like every Christmas community in the world, Pennsylvania and Netherlands came up with their own version of good and mean gift-bringers. A myriad of characters such as Christkind, Befana and Kriss Kringle are all associated with Christmas. However, all these characters are the good gift-bringers, who would gift the children out of holiday goodwill. If your child is refusing to eat peas, pies, Christmas pudding or is just not willing to listen to you this holiday season, then a great way to put an end to the tantrums would be to narrate the story of Belsnickel. Don't know Belsnickel? Well, as eerie as it may sound, Belsnickel is a masked gift-bringer and is considered to be far less cheery than his more peaceful counterpart, the Christkind. It is likely that your children are going to listen to the story of Belsnickel in awe. To know more about this portly Christmas figure, read on.
The Masked Gift-Bringer
Belsnickel was a popular Christmas character developed around the Middle Ages in European countries. Germany was known to have both happy and grim gift-bringers, and the Belsnickel was the very grim one. He was not only feared but also got children to behave nicely through the year so that they could receive gifts during Christmas. Belsnickel is the first character in the history of Christmas characters who clearly distinguished between good children and bad children, unlike Santa Claus who presented gifts to those whose names were on the famous 'Santa's list'.
Belsnickel would mainly leave switches for children who were bad through the year and would also leave small toys, socks, mittens, candies or fruits for the well-behaved children he came across. On the Eve of Christmas, just before everybody would go to bed, Belsnickel would announce his arrival by knocking on the windowpanes or doors. The children actually get to see Belsnickel, unlike Santa Claus who travels down the chimney while the children are asleep. With a black bag in one hand, and a mask covering his face, Belsnickel was considered more of a Robin Hood type of character during 'Christmas' and had an eerie, 'superhero/bad guy' quality to him. It is said that children would either love him, or absolutely fear him.
There are, of course, scarier versions of the Belsnickel. Legend has it that he used to drag naughty children into the forest and make them pay for their mischievous behavior through the year. Other stories suggest that he used to kidnap naughty children from their beds and never returned them to their parents. However, Belsnickel would often give them a chance to redeem themselves, if they deserved it. They were either made to dance, do tricks, sing or recite poems, depending on what Belsnickel wanted to hear. The story of Belsnickel is enough to inculcate fear in children. No wonder then that he later, disappeared into obscurity after the introduction of merrier Christmas characters into the picture. Nowadays, the story of Belsnickel is recited or even depicted in parts of Germany to wreak some Christmas havoc for good humor and to scare naughty children.
Belsnickel is shown as a thin, lanky person who dresses up in fur clothing, paints his face, wears a mask and attaches bells to his costume. With his one hand, he is seen carrying a bag with gifts and treats for good children and the other hand would have a switch or a whip for bad children. His costume was black in color and usually reflected his 'grim' character. Children feared this masked figure, though he was viewed as a hero in the eyes of many good children.
'Christmastime In The Land Of Belsnickel'
There is a land
Of wilderness glades, and craggy cliffs,
Of hidden coves and ancient forests.
Home of the Belsnickel.
Among this dark forest
Under the roots of a great oak tree
There is a limestone cavern
That is completely hidden from view.
In this dank cavern, Belsnickel makes his home,
He is hairy and covered in animal pelts,
With moss in his hair and lichens on his skin.
He lives in the cave, with his loyal servant Rupert.
Rupert is donned in the same manner as Belsnickel,
Only he is even dirtier,
Blackened from the soot of many fires
And smudged with the grease of many meals.
Every year, when it gets to be about this time of year.
When the leaves have been shed, the winter winds start to howl,
And the forest creatures prepare for winter in their own way.
Belsnickel and Rupert start plotting….
Plotting mischief and mayhem, of wreaking havoc
On the intruders who live in their valley.
They regale in events of seasons past, when they scared cattle,
Carried away children, and spread fear throughout the countryside.
Belsnickel has also been known to feed wild onions to the dairy cows,
So their milk will taste of onions and will be unfit for use by the intruders.
But most of all, Belsnickel and Rupert await Christmas Eve.
When everyone is indoors, reveling in the merriment of the season.
That is when Belsnickel becomes most embittered for being disturbed.
He loves the Winter Solstice, but can't even bay at the moon,
Without the intruders hunting him with their ferocious hounds.
Belsnickel reckons that if he can't celebrate, neither will they.
Late in the night, he and Rupert go from house to house,
Prying open the windows and breaking down doors.
Seeking vengeance they will yank children from their slumber,
And beat them with switches. Rupert hopes to toss a few in his sack, as well.
At these thoughts, pure joy shows on the face of Belsnickel and Rupert,
Primitive chuckles erupt from Ruperts snaggled mouth.
They are both anxious for night to fall,
And to begin their night of havoc.
Love him or hate him, Belsnickel is a popular Christmas legend that who is feared and loved at the same time. The character was created to wreak havoc during the festive season and there are many children who still believe in the fury of Belsnickel in certain parts of Europe. This Christmas, promise to be good because, 'children beware, you are in for a scare!'
Belsnickel is a masked gift-bringer in Pennsylvanian Dutch communities and is a feared Christmas figure. Read on to know more about this interesting personality.