In Germany there was Weihnachtsmann (the Christmas Man), Schimmelreiter (Rider of the white horse) and Pelze Nicol (Furry Nick). Pelze Nicol seems to have followed the early German settlers to America. Somewhere along the line this name evolved into Belsnickle.
Belsnickle roughly translates as Nicholas in fur. He was often pictured in a fur coat in the antique drawings I have seen. The colors were usually dark and many different colors have been used. Seldom did he appear in bright red. Belsnickle was not the cute, cuddly guy our Santa Claus is. You sure wouldn't want to walk up to him in a mall and plop your kid in his lap. He was a dark, foreboding character whos mission was to scare kids into being good. Before St. Nicholas Day adults would dress as Belsnickle and go around outside the house rattling chains and making other noises to frighten the children. The smart and/or timid ones would be good until St. Nicholas Day and get presents. The brave brats got switches and coals.
You may have noticed that I said St. Nicholas Day and not Christmas. It used to be that the presents came on December 6th, the anniversary of the death of St. Nicholas. It has only been in modern times that Santa Claus has been associated with Christmas.
Return to Santa page