Reflecting on the true meaning of Christmas with neighbors.
Speaking of which. I meant to post this on Christmas day but was otherwise occupied. So I was reading the other day about an old German legend about a guy named Nacht Ruprecht. Here is an excerpt from the book:
The woodland depths were alive with all kinds of foul creatures who could threaten humankind….Many of these were believed to be ‘little people’ who went under the general classifications of goblins, elves, dwarves, or trolls. The most vicious of these were the tomtin, little men dressed in red (the color of blood) who were known to attack travellers on lonely forest roads.
Sadistic creatures, the tomtin were associated, in Germanic folklore, with a number of ancient beings who were said to live even deeper in the forest, venturing out into the world of men only at certain times of the year. These entities were probably the embodiment of old, nearly forgotten forest or fertility gods that had been worshipped by the early German tribes and bore such names as Nacht Ruprecht (a bizarre and alarming figure, adorned in straw and antlers) and Schwartz Peeter (a grim, black, muscular figure, like a giant blacksmith). The tomtin were considered to be their servants, murdering travellers at their behest. Pulling travellers to the ground, the tomtin beat them with chains or with barbed sticks or poles until they were dead and then commenced to lap up their blood like dogs. They bore back the hearts and livers of those they killed as sustenance to their ancient masters amongst the trees.
Many of the entities chose to manifest themselves during the winter months. Nacht Ruprecht, for example, would come to the windows of the cottages and peer in, generally terrifying those within. Accompanied by his close servant, George Oaf, who was armed with a great whip or flail, and with the tomtin thronging after him, he travelled the snow-covered roads, beating and often killing those whom he met. To those who worshipped him, or kept old faiths alive, he offered rewards.
The veneration of these ancient deities alarmed the Church so much that they decided to supplant the idea of a supernatural pagan being travelling around dispensing gifts and rewards with a Christian counterpart. And the person whom the Church chose was St. Nicholas. Ironically, the bloodthirsty, blood-drinking tomtin were now attached to this Christian saint.
They did not, however, initially lose any of their brutish and depraved ways. In parts of Germany, St. Nicholas was known as “Buller Claus” (Belled Nicholas) because of the chains and bells that he carried. When he approached a house, the tomtin went ahead to rouse sleeping children, drag them from their beds, and ask them questions on the Christian catechism. If they could not answer or answered incorrectly, the tomtin beat them with sharp sticks whilst St. Nicholas pelted them with hard coal until they bled and the tomtin licked the blood from their wounds. If they were able to answer correctly, they were (grudgingly) rewarded with an apple or sweetmeat. Later, the image of the tomtin softened, and in a move of supreme irony, they became ‘Santa’s little helpers’ or ‘Christmas elves.’
I always wondered why you got “coal” in your stocking if you were bad.
Note that I am not sure any of the above is actually true. I looked for independent confirmation that this story was correct and didn’t find any. Also the description of Nacht Ruprecht is very similar to the Master of the Hunt, which is Celtic, which makes me wonder if the author just made it up.