The companions of Saint Nicholas vary from region to region. These are some figures which often come to picture when tales of Saint Nicholas are narrated. Saint Nicholas was an extremely benevolent and charitable person, who acquired the name of Santa Claus in the modern world. He is the favorite Biblical character for the children as he is the bringer of Christmas gifts. The companions of Saint Nicholas, who are known to have accompanied him, also included frightening characters who threatened to seize and punish naughty children. However, not all of them were ghastly creatures. The Saint has a white horse, donkey and some angels also as his companions. Most of these characters differ according to countries. For instance, in France, the donkey was his partner, whereas angels acted as his helpers in Belgium and Germany. Today, these characters are enacted by people to celebrate Christmas, in many countries. Read on to find out about the companions of Saint Nicholas.
The Christmas Gift-givers
Krampus was a frightful looking character who accompanied Saint Nicholas in the Alpine countries; Austria, Slovenia and Croatia still believe in this character. According to the legends, Krampus travelled alongside Saint Nicholas and intimidated bad children, which was in complete contrast to the good-natured Saint, who distributed gifts. If he found an extremely impish child, he would drag and stuff him/her in his bag, apparently to have him/her as dinner. The character is represented as a beastly creature with a wild goat-like head and demonic disposition. This character is played mostly by young men, who dress up like goat-faced demons carrying sticks and cowbells. They also carry black sacks to scare the children.
Knecht Ruprecht is a famous character in Germany, who carries gifts for good children and rods for the disobedient ones. Ruprecht in Germany is often used in connection to the devil. He travels as Saint Nicholas's attendant, carrying the bag of gifts. His face is blackened as he has to go over the chimney tops to secretly deliver the gifts. Men enacting Ruprecht wear long beards and carry staffs, bags of ashes and have bells on their clothes. It is said that Ruprecht questions the children if they pray regularly. Those who do, receive fruits, nuts and gingerbread and those who don't are thrashed by him with his ash bag. Another legend says that, Ruprecht gives unpleasant gifts, such as stones and pieces of coal, to naughty children and sweets to the polite ones.
Belsnickel is another companion of Santa Claus according to the folklore of Palatinate. He wears furry attire covering his entire body and also wears a mask. This character, however, does not visit along with Santa; he comes alone with the gifts. He presents the good children with toys or socks full of candies, and those who are naughty receive coal or switches in their stockings. Belsnickel, unlike Krampus, is not scary in his appearance. Krampus is a devil who devours naughty children, but Belsnickel is more human in form. He is a short statured man and has often been seen as a house-elf.
In Belgium, Germany, Poland, Ukraine and Austria, Saint Nicholas was believed to have been assisted by some angels. The angels were believed to have kept a big book which recorded the behavior of each child Santa met. According to the Czech tradition, angels act as the protectors of children and save them from the devil.
Zwarte Piet, also called Black Peter, is a famous Christmas character in Netherlands. He was confirmed as the helper of Saint Nicholas in the1845 book 'Sinterklaas en Zijn Knecht'. His job is to go over the rooftops to find the behavior of the children and deliver them gifts accordingly.
Pere Fouettard is a wicked butcher who was destined to follow Saint Nicholas as a punishment. He was accused of tempting small children, who were lost, into his shop and then butchering them. Then Saint Nicholas revived his victims and transformed his heart. This character is common in France and Luxembourg where he is called Housecker.
Schmutzli is Saint Nicholas's helper in Switzerland. This man is dressed entirely in brown, has brown hair and beard with his face tainted with soot and grease. He carries a stick and sack.
In France and Belgium, Saint Nicholas is also believed to be accompanied with a donkey who is responsible for carrying the gift baskets.
Saint Nicholas arrives on a white horse according to the folklore in Netherlands. The horse is called 'Schimmel' or 'Amerigo' and Saint Nicholas rides him on his visit to schools and homes of children.
The companions of Saint Nicholas are often enacted by people to entertain the children. It is not surprising that these characters vary from region to region. Every country or region has its own interpretation of Saint Nicholas and his associates. Till today, these characters remain as myths and are enacted to delight or scare (in case of Krampus) small children. Their origin and most of the facts about them are still subject to speculation but their association with Christmas is solid nonetheless.
The article below has illustrated on the companions who are believed to accompany Saint Nicholas as gift-givers on the Eve of Christmas.