Memories of Christmas Past – Belsnickles

IMG_5418Some of the most popular Santa collectibles were made in Germany around the turn of the 20th century. Many candy containers and standing figures are referred to as Father Christmas or belsnickle a word of old world origin.

Formed of papier-mâché and decorated with felt, faux fur and detailed trimming, these antique decorations truly reflect the olden image of Kris Kringle. Our cultural melting pot led to many different versions of Santa eventually melding into the jolly fellow we recognize today. One popular legend tells of the Dutch Sinter Klass who arrived on horseback bearing gifts each Eve of St. Nicholas. The lore surrounding this winter-clad figure first made its way across the pond with the settlers of New England in the 1700s. When looking back at history, however, it’s important to remember the tale surrounding the persona of St. Nicholas as well.

The true Nicholas was a fourth century Greek Orthodox bishop. As the story goes, the Bishop Nicholas rose to sainthood after stealthily delivering a gift of gold to three destitute girls through a window one mid-winter night. German immigrants told another tale of Santa. Christ Kindl, the Christ Child’s gift-bearing messenger, is often depicted with a gruff-looking Santa figure known as Belsnickle. Christ Kindl, mispronounced so often that the words eventually transformed into “Kris Kringle,” was illustrated as an angelic child bearing baskets of fruit or other gifts. In a number of Victorian-era illustrations a contrary Belsnickle pulls the gleeful Christ Kindl on a sled. Perhaps Belsnickle’s laborious tasks contributed to his stern demeanor.

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