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Companions of saint nicholas

The meaning of «companions of saint nicholas»

The companions of Saint Nicholas are a group of closely related figures who accompany Saint Nicholas throughout the territories formerly in the Holy Roman Empire or the countries that it influenced culturally. These characters act as a foil to the benevolent Christmas gift-bringer, threatening to thrash or abduct disobedient children. Jacob Grimm (Deutsche Mythologie) associated this character with the pre-Christian house spirit (kobold, elf) which could be benevolent or malicious, but whose mischievous side was emphasized after Christianization. The association of the Christmas gift-bringer with elves has parallels in English and Scandinavian folklore, and is ultimately and remotely connected to the Christmas elf in modern American folklore.

Names for the "dark" or threatening companion figure include: Knecht Ruprecht in Germany, Krampus in Austria, Bavaria, Parkelj in Slovenia, Friuli, Croatia, Hungary (spelled Krampusz); Klaubauf in Bavaria, Austria; Bartel in Styria; Pelzebock; Befana; Pelznickel; Belzeniggl; Belsnickel in the Palatinate (and also Pennsylvania, due to Pennsylvania Dutch influence); Schmutzli in Switzerland; Rumpelklas; Bellzebub; Hans Muff; Drapp; and Buzebergt in Augsburg.

The corresponding figure in the Netherlands and Flanders is called Zwarte Piet or Black Pete, and in Swiss folklore Schmutzli, (schmutz meaning dirt).[1] In the Czech Republic, Saint Nicholas or svatý Mikuláš is accompanied by the čert (Devil) and anděl (Angel). In France, Saint Nicholas' companion is called "Rubbels" in German-speaking Lorraine and Hanstrapp (in Alsace, East of France)[2] and the Père Fouettard (Wallonia, Northern and Eastern France).

Often the subject of winter poems and tales, the Companions travel with Saint Nicholas carrying with them a rod (sometimes a stick and in modern times often a broom) and a sack. They are sometimes dressed in black rags, bearing a black face and unruly black hair. In many contemporary portrayals the companions look like dark, sinister, or rustic versions of Nicholas himself, with a similar costume but with a darker color scheme.

In the folklore of Germany, Knecht Ruprecht, which translates as Farmhand Rupert or Servant Rupert, is a companion of Saint Nicholas, and possibly the most familiar. Tradition holds that he was a man with a long beard, wearing fur or covered in pea-straw.[3] Knecht Ruprecht sometimes carried a long staff and a bag of ashes, and wore little bells on his clothes.[3]

According to tradition, Knecht Ruprecht asks children whether they know their prayers. If they do, they receive apples, nuts, and gingerbread. If they do not, he beats the children with his bag of ashes.[3] In other (presumably more modern) versions of the story, Knecht Ruprecht gives naughty children gifts such as lumps of coal, sticks, and stones, while well-behaving children receive sweets from Saint Nicholas. He also can be known to give naughty children a switch (stick) in their shoes instead of candy, fruit and nuts, in the German tradition.

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