Black Peter- Taking the Jolly Out of Christmas

You better have been good this year, or Santa won’t be the only one visiting your house.

You better have been good this holiday season because Santa’s lesser-known doppelgänger, Black Peter, will be the one handing out the coal. Known by many names throughout many countries in Europe Black Peter, is Santa Claus’ evil sidekick that hands out coal, whips naughty children, and even eats them. The lore of Black Peter comes from pre-Christian and postmodern traditions that assist in creating a whole different holiday experience.

Most of the tales of Black Peter and his many variations, come from a desire to keep the masses under some control. In the days of old, our modern holiday season was a time for all to let loose. The harvest was in, so there was plenty food and drink for all. The towns people were encouraged to eat, drink and be merry…but not too merry.
Krampus, as Black Peter is known by in Austria, is a devil-like figure that threatens the punishment of chains and whips to naughty children. On Dec. 5 adults will dress up as Krampus and parade around keeping this sinister legend alive.  In France, Old St. Nick is known as Pere Noel, and his malevolent twin is called Pere Fouettard or “the whipping father”.  This switch-wielding thug can trace his origins back to 1150 C.E.
“The story isn’t as popular as it was in the past, but I remember being extra good during the holidays because of the stories my grandma told me,” said Annika Smit, a Dutch native.
In the Netherlands during the fifteenth century the story of Zwarte Piet became a deterrent to naughty little boys and girls. A bad deed could cause those naughty kids to find themselves with a lump on the head and a free ride to Spain where they would become slaves. This particular version of Black Peter became popular during the fifteenth century because the Spanish occupied the Netherlands at that time. Icelandic lore has not one, but 13 ogre-like creatures that deal out punishments to the evildoers during the holiday season.  The thirteenth century folklore speaks of the mischievous children of ogres, Gryla and Leppalud.  These are not the loveable Shrek like ogres we have come to love through Hollywood’s portrayal. These creatures start their devilish missions two weeks prior to Christmas.  Hurdalkellir is the door slammer, Pottasleikir licks pots, and there is also the window peeper, sausage snatcher and doorway sniffer. The parents of these devilish siblings even help out by eating the naughty little children.

“Everyone grows up hearing the tales, but not everyone puts a lot of stock in them,” says Christos Dorcas. The tales Dorcas is alluding to, are that of the malevolent imps known as the Kalikantzari. The Kalikantzari go down chimneys and take a tinkle in the fireplace. They also are said to force innocent people to dance till they collapse.

“I had no idea that tales like this [Black Peter] existed! God, if I were a kid and heard that I would never have done half the things I did to my siblings,” Ginny Abplanalp said. So this year remember that Santa Claus is not the only holiday spirit coming to town. Better be good or you might just awake Christmas morning with your pots licked, coal in your stocking and one nasty bump on the head.