Monday, December 7, 2015

Belsnickel: Santa's Bad-Ass Bum Sidekick!

We all know and love Santa Claus. He's jolly, fat and gives free crap to good girls and boys. What's not to adore? Here in America, Santa Claus has been mystified as this eternally warm and kind deity. He'd never hurt children in any capacity. In essence, Americans have 'nerfed' good ol' Saint Nick and made him super kid friendly.

Though, If one were to analyze the old world European traditions circling Santa Claus, they would definitely find a much different story. One such old world element that stands out is the legend of Santa's sidekick named Belsnickel.

Born in the Palatinate region of Germany during the Middle Ages, Belsnickel is an ancient mythical being with powers very similar to that of Saint Nick. Dressed in furs and rags, Belsnickel is covered from head to foot in wild, unkempt hair and dirty old clothes. He looks like a disgusting beggar, carrying a large switch in one hand and a bag full of goodies in the other. Some descriptions say he wears a mask to hide his frighteningly grotesque, long tongue! Belsnickel is altogether not pleasant to be around and looks quite disheveled. Many ancient descriptions of Belsnickel also state that he leads Santa's more famous companion Krampus around in chains as a means to frighten children. A guy that walks a demon on a leash? Yeah... that's pretty bad-ass.

Legend has it that Belsnickel will arrive a week or two before Santa Claus and help to 'encourage' wicked little boys and girls to improve their behavior. He would knock on your door and wait for the children of the home to answer his call. Belsnickel might ask the children to sing him a song or answer a riddle. If they did so, he would recklessly toss goodies from his sack all across the floor -- fruits, nuts, baked sweet breads, candy and small trinkets. Yet, this was a devious test by Belsnickel. If any child seemed a little too eager to take the treats, Belsnickel would rap his stick across their back as punishment. Only calm, polite children could take the treats without receiving the wrath of his switch.

Belsnickel 'bout to whoop dat ass.

In every practical sense, Belsnickel is a drunk, smelly, crotchety old bum who doesn't mind using positive reinforcement or punishment to improve the behavior of children. Act like a jerk and you'll feel the sting of his switch. Act like a decent child and you'll get to shove your face with his goodies. While it's not exactly politically correct, it sure seemed to work.


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