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Le Père Fouettard

Le Père Fouettard (French for The whipping Father) is a character who accompanies St. Nicholas in his rounds during St. Nicholas' Day (6 December) dispensing lumps of coal and/or floggings to the naughty children while St. Nick gives gifts to the well behaved.[1] He is known mainly in the Eastern regions of France, although similar characters exist all over Europe (see Companions of Saint Nicholas). This "Whipping Father" was said to bring a stick with him to spank all of the naughty kids who misbehaved.



The most popular story about the origin of Le Père Fouettard was first told in the year 1150. An Inn Keeper (or in other versions a butcher) captures three boys who appear to be wealthy and on their way to enroll in a religious boarding school. Along with his wife, he kills the children in order to rob them. One gruesome version tells that they drug the children, slit their throats, cut them into pieces, and stew them in a barrel. St. Nicholas discovers the crime and resurrects the children. After this, Le Père Fouettard repents and becomes St. Nick's partner. A slightly altered version of this story claims that St. Nicholas forced Le Père Fouettard to become his accomplice as a punishment for his crimes.

Another story states that during the siege of Metz (a city in Eastern France) in 1552, an effigy of king Charles Quint was burned and dragged through the city. Meanwhile, an association of tanners (people who tanned hides for a living) created a grotesque character (also a tanner) armed with a whip and bound in chains that punished children. After Metz was liberated, the charred effigy of Charles Quint and the character created by the tanners somehow assimilated into what is now known as Le Père Fouettard. Events surrounding the city's liberation and the burning of the effigy coincided with the passage of St. Nicholas, hence Le Père Fouettard became his "bad cop" counterpart.

In the 1930s, Le Père Fouettard appeared in the United States under the translated name Father Flog or Spanky. Although almost identical to the original French personification, Father Flog had nothing to do with Christmas and also had a female accomplice named Mother Flog. The two doled out specific punishments for specific childhood crimes (i.e. cutting out the tongue for lying).

Similar Characters

Le Père Fouettard is similar if not identical to numerous characters that perform the same function. Knecht Ruprecht, a tradition of the Germanic People, is probably the best known of these characters. In the Alsace region, Le Père Fouettard is known as Hans Trapp. In Switzerland, Schmutzli is nearly identical. Hans Muff, Pelzebock, Drapp or Buzeberg are also used in various parts of Bavaria. In the Netherlands and Flanders they have Zwarte Piet, although he isn't as scary to kids.

Similar traditions in the Alpine regions have characters that are more bestial and range from a goat to an actual demon or devil. The most popular of these characters is Krampus, other similar/identical characters include Klaubauf, Bartel, Bellzebub, and Čert (Devil).

In some traditions, the bringer of gifts and the bringer of punishment are fused into one. Rumpelklas, Pelzebock, Pelznickel, Belzeniggl, and Belsnickel are examples of this tradition.

In Alsace, Le Père Fouettard is synonymous with the bogeyman.[2]


The most common depiction of Le Père Fouettard would be of a man with a sinister face dressed in dark robes with scraggly unkempt hair and a long beard. He is armed with either a whip, a large stick, or with bundles of switches. Some incarnations of the character have him wearing a wicker back pack in which children can be placed and carried away. Sometimes he merely carries a large bundle of sticks on his back (some speculate that the photograph on the cover of Led Zeppelin IV is Le Père Fouettard). Often, his face is darkened to varying degrees. Some say it is because of his being born of a burned effigy, others say that it is from the soot in the chimneys that he goes down with St. Nicholas. In other representations, Le Père Fouettard is identical to the Dutch character Zwarte Piet (Black Peter). Further renderings of the character show him as being nearly identical to Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus, but wearing a black suit instead of a red one.

Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet

Le Père Fouettard in Pop Culture

  • Jacques Dutronc mentions Le Père Fouettard in his song "La Fille du Père Noël" ("Father Christmas's daughter").
  • Another French pop star, Alain DeLorme mentioned him in the song "Venez Venez St. Nicolas"
  • There is a restaurant named Le Père Fouettard at 9 Rue Pierre Lescot, in Paris which features "Classic Parisian Fare".
  • Robert Schumann composed a piano piece in 1848 most commonly known as Knecht Ruprecht (a similar character, see Companions of Saint Nicholas), but in some cases the piece is called Le Père Fouettard.[3]

See also




Up to date as of January 15, 2010
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Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


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Proper noun

le Père Fouettard m.

  1. In French culture, a traditional Yuletide character, who accompanies Saint Nicholas and punishes naughty children.

Simple English

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