The harsh Germanic Santa Claus equivalent known as Krampus has seen his celebrity rise in recent years, but he’s not Northern Europe’s only the only psychologically scarring Christmas figure. Switzerland’s black-cloaked Schmutzli, also known as “the Whipping Father,” arrives each December 25th to beat and abduct children. Swissinfo says:
Known as Schmutzli in the German part of the country and Père Fouettard (from “whip”) in French, Samichlaus’s alter ego usually carries a broom of twigs for administering punishment to children.
Kurt Lussi, curator at Lucerne’s History Museum, says that the St. Nicholas custom in Switzerland became interwoven with a festival of masks dating back to pre-Christian times. Schmutzli, he says, was a symbol of the evil spirits which these ancient festivals sought to drive out with a combination of noise and light.
He gives the example of an illustration from 1486 that depicts a demon who abducts children. “This child-stealing motif returns again in Schmutzli,” he said. “There’s also the Sträggele, another child-stealing figure which I would call a native Swiss demon. Birch brooms are associated with it and that’s also what Schmutzli carries.”
There is evidence though that in more conservative parts of the country the traditional Schmutzli is still alive and well. Lucerne resident Margareta Simons reports that at a St Nicholas gathering there a group of teenage Schmutzlis started chasing some of the children. When they caught a boy, they thrashed him with a broomstick.