Le Pere Fouettard
Le Pere Fouettard is a French/Belgium Christmas bogeyman with one foot in history and the other in the pagan past. Like Krampus and the Perchen, he is linked to the purifying/ punishing aspect of whipping-hence his name “Father Whipper.” Dressed in dark robes, with a sooty face and unkempt hair and a beard, children can hear him coming from the sound of the slapping of his whip. Le Pere does not work alone; he also follows St Nicholas from house to house, acting as his punisher, dispensing coal and beatings to the naughty. His original pagan context is lost, so instead, he is given shape by various more historical legends and events.
The most popular story of Le Pere Fouettard dates from around 1150. In this tale, La Pere was either an innkeeper or butcher with particularly evil habits. One day, he and his wife captured three boys on their way to a religious boarding school. They robbed the boys of their money and then disposed of them most gruesomely, slitting their throats, cutting them up- and stewing them.
St Nicholas heard of the crime and resurrected the children. On seeing this miracle, the evil innkeeper repented. He either volunteered to help St Nicholas as penance- or else was forced by the saint to assist him every Christmas, punishing the bad while the Saint rewarded the good.
Other, more historically verifiable events explain La Peres’ dirty face. In 1552, the northeastern French city of Metz was under siege by the forces of Charles V, the Spanish King, and Holy Roman emperor. The anger of the citizens led them to make a likeness of the Emperor and drag it through the city streets and burn it. At the same time, the tanners of Metz had created a grotesque character who punishes children. The two separate effigies somehow married themselves together in the popular mind and became incorporated into the role of Le Pere Fouettard.