We know that our Pagan customs have been adopted and changed to suit the needs of other religions and beliefs over the years and this got me wondering to what else has been adapted and changed for this time of year.
When I went to Brugge last month I saw many items to do with a character called Sinterklaas and his helper Père Fouettard. Not really knowing the original story, only the basic one my mother used to tell each Christmas, I thought I’d look it up.
Whichever you may call him he originates from the same story of a man called Nicholas of Myra. The patron saint of Pawn Brokers. This story is Catholic but many children believe in him regardless of their family faiths. The main custom is to put out a slipper the night before and if they have been good they would receive a gift of sweets or a few coins. But the scarier side of the story, the bit my mum forgot to mention, was what happened if you had been naughty. I remember her telling me that I had to be good or Father Christmas wouldn’t visit but she didn’t say about Père Fouettard and his punishments. In accordance with tradition the Catholics have made it a rather harsh thing to be naughty. The simplest punishment would be that you’d get a rod for discipline in your slipper; the worst, tied up in his sack, taken to a forest and beaten! When we were in Brugge we asked a gentleman the reason for the coloured helper and strangely he didn’t know nor did anyone else we asked. Can kind of work out why now! Most countries have dropped Père Fouettard from the story; they don’t like the racist implications which I understand however a few have changed the origin of Père to that of a chimney sweep hence the delivery of the gifts via a chimney. The hay or carrots left out were originally for a horse though latterly he has changed to the deer and Father Christmas’ red clothing comes from the fact that St Nicholas was a bishop whose robes were red. The date has also changed for Father Christmas, he now visits America, the UK and some other countries on the 24th December, tying him to the Christmas celebrations but St Nicholas’ day is actually 6th December so the shoes would be left out on the 5th. So for those of you who put out stockings you've now got an idea where it comes from, so don’t be naughty!