11 Dec 2015


There is a land 
Of wilderness glades, and craggy cliffs,
Of hidden coves and ancient forests.
Home of the Belsnickel.

Among the dark forest
Under the roots of a great oak tree
There is a limestone cavern
That is now completely hidden from view.

In this dark cavern, Belsnickel makes his home,
He is hairy and covered in animal pelts,
With moss in his hair and lichens on his skin.
He lives in the cave, with his royal servant Rupert.
- Courtesy of Indobase Holidays, author unknown.
(The full poem can be read here).

From Belsnickel to the Christmas Spider, don't you just love all of these festive traditions?

'He knows if you've been good or bad,
So be good for goodness sake' .....

Such was the advice given to children in the song, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town BUT they might just as well have been words of wisdom given to the children of early 1800's Pennsylvania Germans, as Belsnickel, a hickory switch in one hand, a bag of sweets and nuts in the other, rapped on their doors asking them to sing him a song/recite a bible verse in exchange for which to would throw the candy/nuts onto the floor.

A popular Christmas figure with origins in the Europe of the Middle Ages. Belsnickel - sometimes known as Ru Klaas (Rough Nicholas) OR Aschenklas (Nicholas in Ashes) -  is believed to be the first festive character to differentiate between those children who had been good and those who had been bad. Some versions of the legend having it that he'd throw the afore mentioned treats onto the floor and woe betide those children who forget their manners and grabbed for them for such children might feel the sting of his hickory switch.

Whether an unkempt man wearing furs, a man wearing a mask with horns and a long tongue or, less commonly, a slight man dressed in white who, more Father Christmas like, slipped through the keyhole leaving gifts on a plate Belsnickel is generally said to travel alone though he is sometimes said to be accompanied by St Nicholas, St Nicholas' companion, Knecht Ruprecht (I'm presuming the 'Rupert' of the poem), Christhindl, or in Lower Austria, the far less lenient, Krampus.

But what of the Christmas Spider?

Once Upon A Time,

A German mother was cleaning for the holidays when, previously having fled up into the attic in order to escape her broom, on Christmas Eve the spiders came down for a peek.

"Oh what a pretty tree," they said, scurrying along each branch in their excitement until, alas, the tree was shrouded in their dusty, grey webs.

 And that's the way it stayed until ....

Arriving with Christmas presents for the children St Nicholas saw the tree and knowing how upset the mother would be to see it covered in dusty webs turned the webs into strands of silver. 

Thus we had the first tree to be decorated in tinsel and the reason why every Christmas tree should have a Christmas Spider in its branches.

Like these legends? 

I shall be adding the links to any other Christmas stories I come across from now until Christmas, starting with ....
If you have any others that I have somehow missed I'd love for you to leave a link to them in the comment box.


Kelly said...

Belsnickel is a new one for me, but I actually knew about the Christmas spider. In fact, I have a little spider ornament for my tree that we made and sold at our Holiday Bazaar one year, along with a copy of the legend.

I like it when you share things like this.

Literary Feline said...

My dad loved putting tinsel on our Christmas tree. We don't use it because of the cats (they'll try to eat it)--and it's such a mess to clean up. I like the legend behind it though.

I had never heard of Belsnickel. That's a great story. Thank you for sharing, Tracy.

Nikki-ann said...

I've not heard of the Christmas Spider before... I'm not sure I like that idea myself!

Natasha Hill said...

These are some of my favourite posts of yours! I love Christmas traditions and old folklore and myth so this is right up my street! Amazing post Tracy! - Tasha

Melissa (Books and Things) said...

I prefer Krampus to the spider, but I did like that tale anyway. :D

Anna Soliveres said...

This is the first time I've heard of Belsnickel and the Christmas Spider! That definitely makes me feel like I've been living under a rock. LOL

Gingi Freeman said...

This is all new to me! And I am legend junky!! Post more of these, this is great! <3 - http://www.domesticgeekgirl.com

Shooting Stars Mag said...

Interesting tales - I don't think I knew these before. The spider web being turned to tinsel is kind of cool, even if spiders make me shudder. haha


Brian Joseph said...

I love folklore and legends such as these.

I reda the entire poem and I really like Belsnickel character.

I look forward to the future links that you will be posting.

kimbacaffeinate said...

I knew about the Christmas Spider..but I am not having it..LOL Belsnickel was new to me, so thank you for the tale!

The Bookworm said...

Interesting legends, I hadn't heard of either of these.

Gina R said...

First time hearing of both actually but don't you just love learning new things! ^-^