Festive Fears: Père Fouettard

 

#4 Père Fouettard 

Père Fouettard, or ‘Father Whipper’ in English, is the French counterpart to Saint Nicholas. He is said to accompany him on his Saint Nicholas Day (December 6) rounds, administering punishments to naughty children by dispensing lumps of coal or hitting them with his whip.

He is described as being a very sinister character, taking the shape of a dark, scraggy man with dirty robes and an unkempt beard. In some instances, his face is said to be dirty with soot from going down so many chimneys. Of course, he is also equipped with his infamous whip, and, in some variations of the legend, a wicker backpack in which he can carry children away.

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Origin stories for Père Fouettard are also varied, but the most popular tale can be traced back as far as 1150. The details of the story itself are debatable, though they follow the same plot. In it, a butcher (or an innkeeper in some versions), along with his wife, captures three children, then drugs them, slits their throats, chops them up, salts them and stews them in a barrel. Proposed motives for the murders range from the man wanting to rob the boys and wanting to eat them… How festive! Saint Nicholas learns of the monstrous crime and decides to intervene, resurrecting the children and taking the man into his custody. As punishment, Saint Nicholas forces Père Fouettard to become his assistant for all eternity.

 

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