Father Christmas’ mean French assistant!

Written by on December 14, 2017 in Guest Blogs

I hope you were all more nice than naughty this year and that you will receive lots of lovely holiday gifts. Handing out presents to good little girls and boys is what Saint Nicholas does best, but what about those kiddies who couldn’t quite manage to be good?

Misbehaving children in Europe have to be very careful the first part of December. Saint Nicholas day is December 6, and that is the day the kindly saint appears and distributes gifts to obedient children… but beware, he has a not-so-nice “helper” who tags along with him.

Pere Fouettard or Father Whipper

In north-eastern France, especially in the region of Alsace and Lorraine, this helper is called Père Fouettard, which translates as Father Whipper. His name comes from the small whip (fouet) that he carries – and uses. While St. Nick gives out gifts and sweets to nice children, Father Whipper takes care of the naughty ones: he might just leave them lumps of coal instead of presents, or he might decide to beat them with his whip. Sometimes he even stuffs them into his basket and carries them away into the night, never to be seen again. Wow! Talk about motivation to behave…

Just looking at jolly, old St. Nick’s partner is enough to give kids a scare. He’s a big, ugly man with a long beard and shaggy, dark hair, wrapped in a big fur coat. He’s a noisy fellow too: cracking his whip, rattling chains, and ringing bells as he stomps along in heavy boots.

The Legend

Where did this decidedly un-cuddly fellow come from? The legend, which goes back to the Middle Ages, tells us of three little boys who were lost in the woods. A butcher found them and decided that, since he hadn’t had much luck on his hunt that day, these three tender little morsels would do. He chopped them up and put them in the salt barrel to cure.

Saint Nicholas came into the butcher’s shop and the evil man tried to sell him a piece of his “best meat.” But Nick loved children and couldn’t be fooled. He resurrected the boys and took them back to their parents.

The butcher started traveling with St. Nick and became known as Père Fouettard (Father Whipper). It’s not clear how he and Nick became buddies, but it seems that Father Whipper is no longer allowed to eat, beat, or abduct children. I’m pretty sure his only job, these days, is to inspire good behavior in them.

Note: Northern France isn’t the only place where St. Nick has an evil counterpart, similar characters exist in many parts of Europe.

Margo Lestz lives in Nice, France and blogs at curiousrambler.com. She is the author of Curious Histories of Provence, Curious Histories of Nice, France and French Holidays and Traditions, details: curiousrambler.com/margos-books

Related Articles

Walking the historic streets of Paris

If you know Paris, you will have walked over the Pont Neuf, the creation of King Henri IV (1553 – 1610), visionary, lover, pluralist, urban designer, and soldier, who inherited the throne (1594) as the bloody civil Wars of Religion between Catholics and the “heretic” Protestants were still raging. The fanatics hated him because he […]

Continue Reading

The history of Cypress Trees in Provence

Where ever you look, slender, conical cypress trees in Provence are a definite feature of the landscape. They line roads, outline fields, decorate cemeteries, and adorn houses. These sturdy, practical trees protect crops and homes from the fierce mistral wind that whips through this area. But, there is more to them than meets the eye. […]

Continue Reading

The importance of cheese in France

I spy with my expat eye – a view of France from the inside… When Keith van Sickel and his wife Val began spending time in France, they knew that they had much to learn. There was the language, of course, but also the customs and quirks of the French. Little did they know that […]

Continue Reading

The rules of boules – it isn’t just a game in France

Boules is a serious business in France, it’s not just a game but a way of life… An introduction to boules Anton crouches, motionless. He cups a scuffed metal ball in his right hand, his face the picture of concentration. Seconds go by. A minute. The other players are silent as they wait for his […]

Continue Reading

How to fake speaking French in just one minute

This might be just the thing for those of us who want to fake French with zero effort, well except for watching a 60 second video. Oliver Gee, an Australian journalist in Paris who runs a podcast called The Earful Tower shares his top tips for how to fake French and fool everyone (maybe)… Here’s […]

Continue Reading


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed

Comments are closed.