Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What is a Belznickel?

I crafted this Belsnickel from clay, sheep's wool
and old quilt scraps. See more . . .
  Belsnickel (also Belschnickel, Belznickle, Belznickel, Pelznikel, Pelznickel, from pelzen (or belzen, German for to wallop or to drub) and Nickel being a hypocorism of the given name Nikolaus) is a fur-clad Christmas gift-bringer figure in the folklore of Palatinate region of southwestern Germany along the Rhine, the Saarland, and the Odenwald region of Baden-Württemberg. The figure is also preserved in Pennsylvania Dutch communities. According to the German (Deutsch) Americans, the Belsnickel is a mythical being who visits children at Christmas time. If they have not been good, they will find coal and/or switches in their stockings. The Belsnickel was a scary old crone, not well loved except by parents wanting to keep their children in line.
      Sometimes English speaking peoples get confused about the origins of the Belsnickle and mistake his character for Krampus. However, Krampus and Belsnickle are two separate Christmas characters. Krampus is a wild, horned demon akin to the devil. His name translates to “claw”. Belsnickle never had a tongue that hangs out, only Krampus. Belsnickle, on the other hand, dressed in furs and was very human, save for his short stature. He may have been a fur trapper, a hermit, or a very tall elf or tomten as the little people were called in the Scandinavian countries. His folk tale was passed down to generations of Germans who immigrated to America, primarily to Pennsylvania (the Pennsylvania Dutch/Deutsche). “In Germany, there is a strange old gnome called Belsnickle or Pelsnickle meaning ‘Nicholas dressed in fur,’” from "Christmas Around the House," by Florence H. Pettit (she connects the Pelz with fur in stead of the German verb "pelzen" or "belzen").
      Old European "Santa" characters dressed and acted more like Belsnickles than the current American prototype of Santa Claus of today. Santa Claus in America is generally depicted as a portly, joyous, white-bearded man - sometimes with spectacles - wearing a red coat with white collar and cuffs, white-cuffed red trousers, and black leather belt and boots (images of him rarely have a beard with no moustache). This image became popular in the United States and Canada in the 19th century due to the significant influence of Clement Clarke Moore's 1823 poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" and of caricaturist and political cartoonist Thomas Nast. This image has been maintained and reinforced through song, radio, television, children's books and films.
Lovely old antique photograph 
of a Belsnickle
      Images of Santa Claus were further popularized through Haddon Sundblom’s depiction of him for The Coca-Cola Company’s Christmas advertising in the 1930s. The popularity of the image spawned urban legends that Santa Claus was invented by The Coca-Cola Company or that Santa wears red and white because they are the colors used to promote the Coca-Cola brand. The Coca-Cola image of Santa Claus is still the popular favored image of the vast majority of North Americans.
       Saint Nicholas of Myra is the primary inspiration for the Christian figure of Sinterklaas. He was a 4th century Greek Christian bishop of Myra (now Demre) in Lycia, a province of the Byzantine Anatolia, now in Turkey. Nicholas was famous for his generous gifts to the poor, in particular presenting the three impoverished daughters of a pious Christian with dowries so that they would not have to become prostitutes. He was very religious from an early age and devoted his life entirely to Christianity. In continental Europe (more precisely the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Germany) he is usually portrayed as a bearded bishop in canonical robes. In 1087, the Italian city of Bari, wanting to enter the profitable pilgrimage industry of the times, mounted an expedition to locate the tomb of the Christian Saint and procure his remains. The reliquary of St. Nicholas was desecrated by Italian sailors and the spoils, including his relics, taken to Bari where they are kept to this day. A basilica was constructed the same year to store the loot and the area became a pilgrimage site for the devout, thus justifying the economic cost of the expedition. Saint Nicholas was later claimed as a patron saint of many diverse groups, from archers, sailors, and children to pawnbrokers. He is also the patron saint of both Amsterdam and Moscow.
      In our home, the figure of Santa embodies both the legend of Christmas generosity  and the ideals of the revered abolitionist, Saint Nicholas of Myra. He is dressed in the robes of an elderly gentleman who wanders the planet bringing gifts to all children, whether they are naughty or nice. He does not need to be portrayed as belonging to a particular race or time period, but, he is portrayed as a redeemer of slaves, a lover of Jesus, and kind friend to all little children everywhere. (Wikipedia)

Links to The Real Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus: St. Nicholas Center  * The Saint Nicholas Society The Real Saint Nicholas ***

Santa Prototypes: View the Coca-Cola Santa Prototype *****
Belsnickles: Pam Schifferel * Zempléni Múzeum * Collection at Flickr * Altman's Board "Vintage Christmas" * Patty DeGrofft * Creations In Wood by Wade * Marta's Showcase * Norma Decamp * Kathy Ravenberg * Dawn Tubbs * Debbee Thibault * Bethann Scott  * Cynthia Finnerty * Nancy Malay * American Artists * An 1855 Christmas * The Old Christmas Station * Santa at A Christmas Market * Santa Claus takes the train in Berlin * Lori Mitchell * Karen Griffith's board, "Primitive Santas" *

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