Santa Claus: Belsnickel in America
Belsnickel may have contributed to the image of Santa Claus in a more direct way. In Germany Belsnickel, or Knecht Ruprecht, accompanied St. Nicholas on his gift-giving rounds. Germans pictured him as a shaggy, soot-covered man who carried a whip, a bell, and a sack of treats. In Pennsylvania Dutch country, however, Belsnickel made his rounds without St. Nicholas. He brought nuts, candies, and cookies to children daring enough to brave a possible smack of the whip as they scrambled for the treats he tossed on the floor. Since Belsnickel often dressed in furs, at least one writer has speculated that his image may have inspired the fur-trimmed suit worn by Santa Claus. In the United States beliefs and customs surrounding Belsnickel survived somewhat longer than those surrounding the Christ Child, dying out in the early twentieth century.