Christmas Past

It's the fascinating backstories to the Christmas traditions you cherish. Christmas Past brings you year-round Christmas history, forgotten Christmas fiction, roundtables, interviews, and most of all, Christmas cheer. And it's all from the uniquely warm and nostalgic world of Brian Earl — where the holiday season never ends!

Backstory — Santa Claus, Part 2: A Snowball Rolls Through Europe

image of Saint Nicholas and "Black Peter"

Continuing where we left off in part 1, we explore more of the legend of St. Nicholas. This time, we look at how several cultures left their own imprint on the legend as it spread across Europe.

image of Saint Nicholas and "Black Peter"
St. Nicholas and Black Peter. St. Nicholas is depicted in his bishops robes. Soon he’ll be wearing the familiar fur suit

Many Americans are surprised to learn that in Europe, St. Nicholas is said to have one or more assistants who punish naughty children.

St. Nicholas legends from from Europe

  • Germany: Knecht Ruprecht, a farm hand who sometimes carried a long staff and a bag of ashes, and wore little bells on his clothes
  • Austria, Slovenia, and Croatia: Krampus, a horned figure described as “half-goat, half-demon”
  • Germany: Belsnickel, a man wearing fur covering his entire body. He sometimes wears a mask with a long tongue.
  • Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg: Black Peter, a moor from Spain
image of krampus and st. nicholas, with children
Krampus and St. Nicholas, making sure children behave themselves

Music from this episode

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