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Santa's Evil Beginnings

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Did you know that Santa Claus used to be a violent thug accompanied by a group of little vampires? Old folktales  from Germany's Black Forest shed new light on Santa's beginnings.

Santa’s Evil Beginnings


In Germany’s Black Forest, long before Christianity came to the area, there was a brutal and frightening being called Nacht Rupert (or Ruprecht), Nacht meaning night and Ruprecht being a common name for the devil. Nacht Rupert was a fearsome figure, covered in straw, wearing antlers, and adorned with bells. 

Nacht Rupert was the master of the tomtin, evil, dwarf-like creatures who wore suits of red, the color of blood. Nacht Rupert and the tomtin would attack travelers on the forest roads and beat them severely. Then the tomtin would rush around, lapping up the blood like dogs. Rural roads were considered dangerous for travelers due to Nacht Rupert and his evil minions.

Nacht Rupert would even be seen in villages at night, peering into peoples’ windows and generally terrifying them. Those who did not properly respect or even worship Nacht Rupert were subjected to his terrible wrath.


When Christianity made it to the area, church officials were appalled by tales of Nacht Rupert. It was decided that Nacht Rupert would be replaced by a saint, St. Nicholas, but it took many years for the friendly, saintly new image to catch on. For some time, Rupert/St. Nick was known as 'Buller Claus' ('Belled 'Nicholas') because of the chains and bells that he carried. When he approached a house, the red clad tomtin went ahead to rouse sleeping children, drag them from their beds, and ask them questions on the Christian catechism. If they could not answer, or answered incorrectly, the tomtin beat them with sharp sticks and chains, while St. Nicholas pelted them with lumps of coal until they bled. Then the tomtin would lick the blood from their wounds. If the children were able to answer correctly, they were rewarded with an apple or sweetmeat. Luckily, St. Nicholas would only come once a year, on a certain day in winter. 

As the legend evolved, Buller Claus eventually became Santa Claus or Saint Nick. Bad children were given lumps of coal, not beaten with them. The bloodthirsty tomtin became 'Santa's little helpers' and, eventually, 'Christmas Elves'. Also, as the story changed, it was fat and jolly Santa who wore the red suit, not the elves. 


Just think of that next time you see Santa at the shopping mall!




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