Tuesday, December 11, 2007

PA German Tuesday-Belsnickel

This is actually a repost from two years ago, with some minor tweaks to it but a lot of you were not reading me back then so I figure it's safe. If you remember this post, I hope the new pictures of my own little Belsnickels make it an acceptable repeat.









Among the PA Dutch there is a tradition of a visit from Belsnickel. Belsnickel means 'Nicholas in furs' and the image is believed to be derived from the figure of 'Black Peter' who is St. Nicholas's helper in Germany. In order to play Belsnickel, someone dressed in rags or animal pelts, masked his eyes, and wore a thick beard. He also carried a bag of sweets, fruits, and nuts in one hand and a switch in the other hand. He carried or wore bells to help announce his arrival. You can see the peppermint stick poking out of this Belsnickel's bag and the orange the Belsnickel at the top is carrying.




Belsnickel could visit at any time during December and he always arrived during waking hours, announcing his arrival with a rap at the door or window. Now before you get too excited about seeing this fellow let's remember he is carrying a switch. He's not the benign and jolly fellow that Santa Claus is. Belsnickel was every bit as likely to give the naughty kids a few lashes with the switch as he was to reward the well-behaved with nuts and sweets from his bag. If you were counted among the naughty there was opportunity to redeem yourself by singing a song or reciting a poem to Belsnickel. Unfortunately, there became a problem with some overzealous, justice-oriented Belsnickels and in some places Belsnickelling was outlawed. Today it is rare to actually be visited by Belsnickel but the threat is still made. I think this one looks like he is ready to bring that switch down on some naughty person's hinnerdale!


Among the PA Dutch there is a paradox. People are very charitable givers but those in need are not often good at receiving since self-sufficiency is so highly valued. In order for charity to be received the giver must make it seem as if the receiver is doing the giver a favor. "I made all this bread. I chust cain't use it before it goes stale and you chust cain't let good food waste. I'd be grateful if you'd take some." Belsnickel, however, allowed for widows, orphans, and others in need to be provided for with no such dance. If Belsnickel brought you food you took it, no questions asked. I like this Belsnickel because I think he looks like he is hiding a big smile under that bushy beard.



Now everyone be good, so Belsnickel is good to you!

27 comments:

SignGurl said...

I really enjoyed reading this. I've never heard of Belsnickel. I love your little Belsnickels. They are pretty cute even if they are carrying switches.

Seamus said...

LOL! Imagine a visit and you were on the naughty list with laryngitis!

Rebicmel said...

Michelle, this was truly interesting awesome post. I am still in Texas visiting my sister, I know you have people in Texas right? Hope all is well with you have a great day today.

Charles said...

Wow Lime,
You're a regular international cultural exchange unto yourself. I (unfortunately) wasn't reading you yet, two years ago, so this is all new to me. I'd gladly employ a Belsnickels, if we can swap out the switch for a baseball bat, for a choice few adults in the back of my mind.
Those are some cute crafts, you said they were yours (or at least one of them), did you make any of them?

lime said...

signgurl, belsnickel is a totally Pa german thing so i am not surprised you've never heard of him

seamus, perish the thought!

rebicmel, glad you enjoyed. hope you're enjoying texas. i have some friends there, yes.

charles, you are the sort who got belsnickelling outlawed! LOL no, i didn't make these little fellows. there is a craft festival that sells them each year. i just like to collect them.

lecram sinun said...

hmmm... so if I grew my beard longer and wore pelts...

Maddy said...

Of course I speak from a perspective of complete ignorance but some of those traits sound distinctly British too!
Cheers


This is my calling card or link"Whittereronautism"until blogger comments get themselves sorted out.

furiousBall said...

As long as Belsnickel doesn't give my nuts lashes from his switch, we cool

Crabby said...

Yeegads! That's ghastly! There's no time in my whole life I wouldn't get the switch. And the way I sing...crap on a cracker! He'd beat the living hell outa me.

I'm gonna have nightmares.

S said...

Uh oh Ima hiding from those guys.

They are very very cute Miss Creative! Do you get points if you make the Belsnickels, which would neutralize any bad behaviour, perchance?

lime said...

lecram, i could TOTALLY see you as a belsnickel!

maddy, well, it had european roots so who knows what sort of cross over there may be

furiousball, LOL, i've never heard of belsnickel being quite that severe fortunately

crabby, oh honey, you'd charm the living daylights out of belsnickel, just show him one of your vids

s, good question!

airplanejayne said...

Ohhhh! I want a belsnikel! So cute!

Thanks for this post -- I love it!

Theresa said...

I've been good, I've even given you an award. So do you think Belsnickel will come all the way to Spain to bring me something? :)

BTExpress said...

Thanks for the history lesson. It's something else you've taught me about that half of my family. I thought I was part Dutch until you explained that I was part German. Remember that?

Where did you learn all this stuff?

cathy said...

This was really interesting and imformative. I am glad you
re-posted it and gave us newbies a chance to enjoy it.

Gledwood said...

Those little gremlin things - they look like they speak German!

Beach Bum said...

Belsnickel might need to visit my kids. And let them redeem themselves a little.

G-Man said...

Crazy Pennsylvania Dutch Bastards!!!...xoxoxoxox

lime said...

apj, come east next year, i'll take you along to get one...or give me your address next year and i'll send you one.

theresa, hhmm, good question! you certainly are deserving!

btexpress, i do remember enlightening you as to your heritage. most of what i learned i picked up along the way growing up and reading. i did a little bit of googling before i wrote this, thats' where i learned about black peter.

cathy, glad you found it a worthy repost

gledwood, lol!

beachbum, find yourself some rags, etc. happy belsnickelling ;)

lime said...

gman, i resemble that comment!

The Zombieslayer said...

I remember reading this not too long ago. Maybe it was on wikipedia.

Well, I guess it's sort of fair as long as you don't get a mean one because if you're bad, you better be good at singing or writing poetry.

Joeprah said...

I think it is time we spice Santa up a bit...lets have him kickin' some ass not just droppin' off toys...what a push over...You wouldn't catch that pumpkernickel guy playing that game. Thanks for the lesson.

Mona said...

Belsnickelling is a good idea! I would give him a fat bat . I wish I could summon one right now, to give a whack on the head to the postmaster who refused to serve me for sexist reasons!

lime said...

zombie, if you have to sing or recite it's about the spirit more than the skill

joeprah, lol..santa with a vengeance

mona, you and charles are to stay away from the bats ok? lol

Bunny said...

I grew up amongst Nederlanders (actual Dutch). They have the tradition of Swartze Pete (Sinter Klas's helper dude) which sounds somewhat similar. Except if you were bad, Swartze Pete would actually kidnap you and take you away!

I love your Belsnickels!

Marie said...

That is way better than coal. How did Santa get more popular than this guy?

Phyllis said...

I, too, am from Pennsylvania Deutsch ancestry and have a small collection of Belsnickels made by the late Margaret Yerk. Do you know anything about these? I love yours! Did you make them? Where did you get them?