Knecht Rupercht – Origin of Christmas Elves

by Mark on November 26, 2010

Many holiday traditions, like the Christmas tree and Santa’s joyful elves, are from Germany. The origin of the happy tiny toy makers comes from a darker and more fearful character, Knecht Rupercht.

St. Nicholas Day, 6th and 7th of December, is widely celebrated in Europe. The German Christmas season is so intense that the Sankt Nikolaus is a relatively lower key holiday. Children place a Nikolaus-Stiefel, (Nicholas boot), outside the front door. Sankt Nikolaus arrives in bishop robes along with Knecht Ruprecht, (Servant Ruprecht.) For good children the saint fills the boot with candy and other goodies. For ‘bad’ children Rupercht stuffs switches or coal into the boot. It is good fun. The tradition established the ‘naughty or nice’ decisions by today’s Santa Claus.

The bearded Knecht Rupercht wears a filthy dark hooded elf-like outfit. This helper is stooped over by his heavy bag of coal; often limps; and sometimes carries a switch to apply direct punishment. The ancient stories about Rupercht are darker where he kidnaps bad children; puts them in his bag, and takes them into the dark forest for beatings. This is similar to the original Grimm’s Fairy tales where Little Red Riding Hood was not saved by the woodsman. Fortunately Rupercht and the Grimm’s stories evolved into happily ever after characters.

So you better watch out for Knecht Rupercht while traveling in Germany during the holidays.

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