The Germanic tribes of the Black Forest worshipped a number of Gods, among them were Nacht Ruprecht and Schwartz Peteer. The little people – the Tomtin – were said to be the servants of these Gods and were tiny men dressed all in red.
Nacht Ruprecht was a larger than life figure with 8 deer legs and antlers, clothed in straw, who would terrify villagers by appearing in the windows of their homes at night, accompanying him would be his faithful companion George Oaf and they would roam the lonely roads together with George beating any lone traveller they came across with his whip and flail. The Tomtin would run around them, lapping up the blood of the fallen like dogs. Those who worshipped Nacht Ruprecht were, of course, spared such attacks. The tomtin, however, were keen freelancers and would often venture out to attack a lonesome traveller if they could. Having been tripped or pulled to the ground, the hapless victim would be set upon and beaten to death with poles, sticks, chains and whatever other instruments of destruction the tomtins could acquire, and they would then proceed to feast on the poor individual’s blood soaked body.
So where is Santa I hear you ask? Read on….
Nacht Ruprecht, like many of the old Pagan Gods was a pretty alarming concept for the Christian Church: not only was the idea of worshipping such a monstrous deity abbhorent to them it also effected their gate money in terms of the collection plate and bums on seats. They could not just tell people not to worship these Gods so they came up with an alternative. Nacht Ruprecht was gradually replaced over many decades by a more congenial figure who roamed the land not killing but handing out gifts. Saint Nicholas was the chosen face for this new, improved, people-friendly (and of course, Christian) entity.
The Tomtin, somewhat ironically, became linked to St Nicholas, although in his early incarnations he was a lot less cuddly than he is now. In early tales St Nick, known as Buller Claus (Bellied Nicholas) would announce his arrival by bells and chains and sent the Tomtin ahead to wake the sleeping children by dragging them out of their beds in the middle of the night. The children were then subjected to a pop-quiz on the Catechism of the Church. Those who answered well received a reward in the form of a gift (usually an apple or somesuch), those who were not so well up on the church’s teachings were beaten by the Tomtin whilst cuddly old St Nick hurled lumps of sharp coal at them until they bled.
In some areas, where the Nacht Ruprecht tradition continued he would accompany Santa on his travels in the form of a cloaked man who would whip naughty children with a switch. In others (mainly the more Catholic south of Germany) he became interchangeable as the Santa character. In both cases he eventually lost his old Pagan God identity.
Over the years the stories have softened further to the point where the good children still receive treats and the naughty would only wake up to a lump of coal in their stocking on Christmas morning. So what happened to the blood thirsty Tomtin – they gave up their red clothing and became Santa’s elves, making all the lovely toys for Santa to deliver. Everyone has to make a living.
Curran, Bob. Vampires: A Field Guide to the Creatures that Stalk the Night. NJ: Career Press, 2005.