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The Dark Origins of Santa: St Nick and the French Cannibal Le Père Fouettard

The Dark Origins of Santa: St Nick and the French Cannibal Le Père Fouettard

Everybody knows St. Nicholas as the inspiration for modern-day Santa Clause. But what you may not know is an insanely dark and gory origin story in how he became known as the Father of Christmas.

It all has to do with a French butcher (or in an 1150 AD version of the tale, an Innkeeper) who some say craved human flesh. Others assert there was a terrible famine going on in his village and children just seemed like a good source of protein at the time. Either way the butcher or his wife lured three boys into their shop where they committed what they thought was the perfect crime. 

And this is where it becomes more like a horror movie than a Christmas origin story. 

The butcher is said to have killed the three boys, chopped them up, and salted them before putting them into a pickling tub. Apparently the plan was to sell the boys’ flesh as ham or sausage after having a few bites of the seasoned meat himself. 

But luckily St. Nick showed up just in time. Legend has it he saved the day by bringing the three boys back from the dead (despite their pickling) and taking the butcher into his custody.

And that’s the dark story of how St. Nick became the patron saint of children (the inspiration for our modern-day Santa Clause) and the butcher became Le Père Fouettard, which translates to Father Whipper or Old Man Whipper in French. He’s basically St. Nick’s sidekick and deals with any guff naughty kids might give him or their parents. 

Le Père Fouettard is usually seen with a whip or large stick and a chain wrapped around him. At times he also has a wicker backpack to carry children off. He usually has a dark and unkempt appearance, which could originate in the 1552 Seige of Metz where tanners burned an effigy (aka statue) of King Charles V before being liberated, since the burnt effigies coincided and may have blended with already pre-existing legends of Le Père Fouettard. Others say it’s as simple as the fact that he slides down the chimney with St. Nick and gets covered in soot. 

Either way, if you saw this guy on Christmas, you’d cross the street and he continues to scare naughty children to this day. 

So even though the dark origins of St Nicholas dealing with a cannibal aren’t likely to make it into your favorite Christmas storybook, Le Père Fouettard’s dark and scraggly figure is a reminder of how there can be a horror story behind even the cheeriest symbols....