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!