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When German immigrants from the Rhineland came to the Pennsylvania area in the 18th century, they brought along their Christmas traditions of the Christmas tree, exchanging gifts and folk lore including “Pelznickel” or fur clad Nicholas. Over time the name has evolved to Belsnickel. He has a very dour demeanor and may wear a long tattered black or brown coat and fur hat. Because he has the dual role of punishing the bad children and rewarding the good, he is often depicted with a switch in one hand and toys and treats in the other.
Before the children could receive gifts from Christkindl, they were visited by Belsnickel. On an evening in December the Belsnickel (an older relative dressed in furs) arrived at the home, unannounced, and made himself known by rapping on a window. The children were gathered together and in a rumbling voice Belsnickel asks each child if they have been naughty over the year. An honest admission of guilt would result in a rap on the hand, however lying would result in harsher punishment. Once the children had been judged, each had to recite a prayer or something they had learned in school to receive a gift or treat from the Belsnickel’s bag.
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