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Friendly elves or angels crop up as hard-working helpers with both the Christ Child and Santa Claus in many portrayals of Christmas. However there are also punitive, sometimes even almost scary looking characters.

"Evil" companions

These characters originally appear together with the main character bringing gifts. In some places, though, their traditional story has become so independent that they have their own separate day and wreak “havoc” without the main character. The birch rod, which is characteristic of many of the gift bringer’ companions, originates from pre-Christian fertility rituals as the seemingly lifeless twigs carry the greenery of the future. So being struck with it did not initially mean a punishment but was considered to be a kind of blessing. It was only in the 19th century that the birch rod was associated with an instrument of castigation and the “evil” characters in customs.

Begleiter Knecht Rupprecht

"Knecht Ruprecht"

The “Knecht Ruprecht” character is popular and depicted as totally normal as well as scary looking as Saint Nicholas’ companion. There are regional differences where he is alternatively known as “Knecht Nikolaus”, “Nickel”, “Pelznickl”, “Hans Muff” or “Hans Trab” (also “Hans Trapp”)  He went from house to house in fur-trimmed clothing with a birch rod and sack in his hand. In the sack were both toys for the good children and pieces of coal for the naughty children. As the custom developed, this assistant regionally became an independent gift bringer as a “representative” of the main character.

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