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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. 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
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).
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
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
In Alsace, Le Père
Fouettard is synonymous with the bogeyman.
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
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".
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