This creature, a sort of strange Saint Nicholas and is believed by some historians to pre-date that Christian saint, arrived at the holidays dressed in dirty, torn rags and/or furs and a mask. He often had a very long tongue, and he carried switches with which to switch naughty children. His pockets, however, were also full of fruits, nuts and small gifts for good children.
There were belsnickles in the parade we attended last weekend in Shepherdstown, WV, and a treat it was to see these folkloric creatures in action. According to the announcer, belsnickles were common in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia until recent years and some of the older people watching the parade remembered them and perhaps still felt the sting of their sticks or switches on their hands!
My friend Matthew Burns wrote a fine article about belsnickles on his blog some years ago. In his area of West Virginia, belsnickling resembled wassailing, with people dressing in costumes and going house to house, singing and shouting and being given treats instead of handing them out.
I have a Belsnickle who comes out every Christmas to watch over my house. He is dressed in fur, carries switches and a bag of gifts, and there are bells on him too.
There are also (of course) Belsnickle ornaments to be had (just check out all of these on Amazon) to add to your holiday decorations. Why not get one to give that Elf on the Shelf some assistance? After all, who doesn't need a little extra help to keep children in line!
Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.