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Thursday, December 20, 2012



Christmas in Germany and German magic: the mysterious Knecht Ruprecht

I'm half German and my childhood was filled with German fairy tales and legends. Fairies, goblins and elves populated my imagination since I was little, no wonder my first book is an urban fantasy about fairies!

Anyway, of all the magic creatures of German folklore, some are good and some really bad. The most evil I can think of is the Erlkoenig, the malicious Elven king described in Goethe’s poem of the same name, where a little boy is killed by the Erlkoenig, who then kidnapped his soul.

In Germany we practically invented Christmas: the Christmas tree (Tannenbaum, in German) is a German tradition and so is Santa Claus who was originally Saint Nicholaus. Connected to Saint Nicholaus is the very positive and Christmassy figure called “Knecht Ruprecht”, which translates as Farmhand Rupert or Servant Rupert, who is a companion of Saint Nicholas as described in the folklore of Germany. He first appears in written sources in the 17th century, as a figure in a Nuremberg Christmas procession.

Although very ugly, often represented like a black man holding a big brown sack, where the toys are kept, Knecht Ruprecht is just a little grumpy but overall good. He appears in homes on St. Nicholas day (December 6), and is a man with a long beard, wearing fur or covered in pea-straw. Knecht Ruprecht sometimes carries a long staff and a bag of ashes, and wears little bells on his clothes. Sometimes he is accompanied by fairies or men with blackened faces dressed as old women. No idea who these men are, nor know why they dress in drag, but that’s tradition, so I suppose we must accept it the way it is.

Knecht Ruprecht’s job is to ask children whether they can pray. If they can, they receive apples, nuts, and gingerbread. If they cannot, he beats the children with his bag of ashes. In other, more recent versions of the story, Knecht Ruprecht gives naughty children useless, ugly gifts such as lumps of coal, sticks, and stones, while well-behaving children receive sweets from Saint Nicholas.

The companions of Saint Nicholas are a group of closely related figures who accompany St. Nicholas in German-speaking Europe .These characters act as a foil to the benevolent Christmas gift-bringer, threatening to thrash or abduct disobedient children. But it’s just an empty threat since, as I said, they don’t look good but they are good inside. Jacob Grimm associated this character with the pre-Christian house spirit (kobold, elf) which could be benevolent or malicious, but whose mischievous side was emphasized after Christianization. In fact, according to my dad and all my oldest German relatives, Knecht Ruprecht is to be also connected to the figure of Rumpelstiltskin who is the antagonist of another German tale of the brother Grimm (and the ambiguous character we all love in the super-cool Once Upon a Time). Rumpel, like Ruprecht, used to be a naughty house kobold who did some chores, always in exchange for something precious, At a point, Saint Nicholaus hired Ruprecht, so that he stopped being so naughty, starting doing some good.

Ruprecht was also a common name for the Devil in Germany, and Grimm states that "Robin Goodfellow is the same home-sprite whom we in Germany call Knecht Ruprecht and exhibit to children at Christmas..."

In spite of this in the Salzburg area, in Austria, the Knecht Ruprecht character is not only St. Nicholas' assistant, but also his protector. Saint Nicholaus has a lot of enemies, the devil being on the top of the list, and Ruprecht, who is known to be very strong and able to do some magic, keeps a watchful eye on the benevolent saint during his journey.

In the Anglo-Saxon countries, where kobolds and elves are more or less the same thing, our Rubrecht and his crew have been replaced by a bunch of cute little elves dressed in green. And the holy Saint Nicholaus has become Father Christmas in England and Santa Claus in the US. Still, good old Rubrecht hasn’t been completely wiped out and got his little ‘revenge’: in fact, you might be surprised to know that, in Germany, Bart Simpson’s dog isn’t called ‘Santa’s little helper’, but Knecht Ruprecht!

About the Author:
Louisa Klein is the author of Supernatural Freak, an action-packed, romantic urban fantasy set in contemporary London. She is 25, lives in the UK but was born in Germany and brought up by a German dad and an Italian and French mum, which made her a little confused at first. She has a degree in Medieval Studies and a postgraduate one in Marketing. She’s been working in publishing on and off since she was 17 and currently is a freelancer and an Urban Fantasy writer. At night she puts on a mask and fights British crime. She gets very little sleep.

When paranormal expert Robyn Wise is offered an outrageous sum of money to cure a boy who is turning into a dead tree, she's very sceptical. A politician ready to pay that much to make his son stop growing branches instead of hair? Come on! She's more likely to be abducted by aliens. This is a trap. Or much worse. And, of course, it's much worse.

The child is turning into a dark portal, created by a powerful entity determined to absorb Fairyland's power. This means that not only queen Titania and her court are in danger, but the very balance of the magic fluxes.

She'd rather stick a pencil in her own eye, but to learn how to destroy the portal, she has to sneak into the Wizardry Council, a place full of wizards who are hiding something—though it’s certainly not their dislike of Robyn.

There, she discovers a secret that could help to overthrow Fairyland's enemies for good, a secret that puts her in the midst of an ancient and deadly war, and not as a bystander, but as the main target.
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  1. Thank you for sharing this...I really enjoyed your post! My family is also strong German, so it made your post more special! Thanks again!

  2. Interesting post. I enjoyed Reading it.
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  3. I like folklores and the German ones sound really interesting.