~~~ art by Kathy GrimmDecember 6th is St Nickolas Day, it is also Belsnickle day.
Every year I learn something new about Belsnickle, and this year I learned that there is crotchety elf who visits the children in some Southern states, a part of his attire is a mask made from biscuit dough. Otherwise he is very much like his Northern counterpart. Children in New Orleans get their gifts from St. Nicholas on this day.
Since St Nickolas and Belsnickle share the same day is there do they also share some other things in common? After you read my comments. I will let you be the judge.
In Europe the Belsnickle does resemble St Nicholas in stature and dress, but when he gets to America, he changes. He becomes more like the Pelznickel, or litterally "fur-Nicholas" from the Palatinate region, the Rhine river flows through this region. Thomas Nast used this traveler dressed in furs and a floppy hat , who carried a sack of apples and nuts for the children, in part to creat his Santa in his fur trimmed suit, a soft hat.
Belsnickle, also known as Belznickle, Pelznickel and a host of similar spellings takes his name from then German words "belzen" or "pelzen" which means to drub or strike. Note the similarity to the word pelt, meaning both to strike, and an animal skin.
Little is known for sure about St Nickolas, thought to be born into a wealthy family in Turkey, he eventually became Bishop of Myra. The patron saint of children, sailors, students, teachers and merchants, and credited with several miracles. Probably best known of St. Nickolas' deeds, was the tossing the three bags of gold through the window, or may-be down the chimney , the gold was intended to be used a dowries, for three sisters who would otherwise have been sold into slavery. Thus he earned his reputation as a secret gift giver. The good Saint was also know for his love of education and intolerance of heresy, he is reported to have been in fist fights with heretics.
Austria, Germany and Switzerland celebrate the feast Day of St Nicklas on Dec 6th, children leave their boots or socks near the door so that the the Saint can fill them.
Martain Luther in his attempts to erase Catholic influence, tranformed "Sankt Nikolaus" , because Protestants don't have saints to "das Christkindle" an angelic Christ Child who brought gifts. Christkindle, as he became known became der Weihnachtsmann or "Father Christmas" and when he crossed the Atlantic was known not as Santa Clause, for that's another story, but as Kris Kringle.
Once safely on the other side of the globe Belsnickle emerged. Dressed in furs or dressed in rags, carrying a sack of goodies or a sack to carry of bad children, he would venture out is fave cover by a mask, chalk dust , soot or whatever was handy, this neighbor visited houses, made sure the children could recite their lessons and or sing a hymn, before he would scatter candies and gits, should the children be too eager to grab up the gifts, he would use switches on them to remind them of their greed.Though the custom of Belsnickling is not as common as it was before WWII , this 2012 picture is from the Hudson Valley region.