The Eve of the Feast of Saint Nicholas: Père Fouettard

Updated: Dec 31, 2020

Remember, remember the 5th of... December? The story of the Christmas Cannibal.

 

An old photo from the late 1800s / early 1900s depicting Père Fouettard (Father Whipper)

 

Thanks in no small part to Hollywood most of the world, at least those of us in the west, have now heard of the horned half goat demon known as the Krampus who travels from house to house dishing out punishments to naughty children during the festive season.


Traditionally though, the Krampus was confined to Central Europe. But that doesn't mean naughty children in the rest of continent were safe from retribution.


In France, for example, on the 5th of December (the eve of the Feast of Saint Nicholas) jolly old Saint Nick travels with Père Fouettard or Father Whipper / Old Man Whipper in English.


The story, which is still extremely popular in France, tells the tale of three children who were playing together. Their game takes them further and further away from home until, as the sun starts going down, they find themselves lost and hungry.


In an attempt to try and find their way home they stumble across a butcher's shop. The lights were on and the warm fire burning, so they knock on the door.


The butcher answers and invites them in.


Once inside the shop the children head towards the fire and the butcher closes the door - and locks it.


Picking up his cleaver from the chopping board the butcher lunges towards the children and viciously attacks them. Chopping them in to pieces he places their body parts in to his salting barrel.


Seven-years pass and the butcher thinks he's gotten away with his crimes until late one night he receives another knock at the door.


This time though, its Saint Nicholas who had heard of the story of the missing children. On entering the butcher's shop Saint Nicholas is drawn to the salting barrel and, as he places his hand upon it he commands the children rise and live once again.


When the butcher sees the children he'd hacked to pieces just seven-years previous jumping out of the salting barrel one by one he throws himself at the feet of Saint Nicholas and begs forgiveness.


Saint Nicholas decides that the butcher's punishment would be to become his companion for as long as God deemed necessary.


Since that day Saint Nicholas has become more commonly known as Santa Claus, or Father Christmas in the UK, and the butcher became known as Père Fouettard. In France, as in much of Europe, Saint Nicholas traditionally delivers gifts to reward children for being good on the 5th of December rather than on Christmas Eve as has become popular in more recent times. In contrast, his companion, Père Fouettard, uses his whip to dish out punishments to naughty children.


Those children who have been particularly bad face the worst fate, they are taken away by Père Fouettard and a piece of coal left in their place. He then chops them up and stores them in his salting barrel to be consumed by him over the next 12-months.


In some stories the butcher is replaced with an inn keeper and the butcher's shop with an inn. But the rest of the story remains mostly the same.


The Feast of Saint Nicholas, or Saint Nicholas Day, isn't really celebrated in countries like the UK and the USA. Instead these traditional stories have been attached to Santa and tamed down considerably. Santa himself has taken over both roles, and as he travels the globe on Christmas Eve he rewards those who have been nice and leaves coal for those who have been bad.


What one should bare in mind, however, is the stories of Père Fouettard and Krampus are far older than Christianity would have you believe. Some say they are in fact the same creature and as old as evil itself.


For more on the Krampus check out our December 3rd 2020 podcast, which can be found here.

47 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All