Thursday, December 6, 2012

Today I learned about Pere Noel and Le Pere Fouettard

Posted by Daniexmachina

Bonjour! In honor of the holiday season, I am still learning about other countries' Christmas traditions! Today we visit France, home of Pere Noel and a frightening fellow called Le Pere Fouettard. If you read about the Dutch traditions, you know that they have Zwarte Pieten to keep their kids in line. And that is what Le Pere Fouettard is for. He is essentially the Boogeyman, there to strike fear into the hearts of naughty children. After reading his backstory, I can see why he would be so frightening.

The story is part of the St. Nicholas legend. Three boys were lost in the fields and they stop at a house to seek shelter for the night. The man who lives there is a butcher. He lets the kids in but rather than welcoming them with hospitality, he chops them up and throws them in to jars to pickle with his meat. St. Nicholas appears, which is after he was killed, so the butcher knows he is there for the boys. St. Nicholas calls the boys to him and they appear alive and whole. The butcher regrets what he did and so repentant he chooses to follow St. Nicholas and help him anyway he can. 

This story led to Le Pere Fouettard (Which means whipping father, by the way) accompanying Pere Noel (Father Christmas). While Pere Noel has much in common with our Santa, in many places in France, he is still followed by Le Pere Fouettard, who is there to whip the naughty children. In some of the older stories, he was known to cut out the tongues of the children who lied! I would not want to cross this man. 

Interestingly enough, until the 1950s, the Nativity was the main symbol of Christmas in France. These days, many parts of France that are less traditional have mostly forgotten the use of Le Pere Fouettard, but they still have Pere Noel. The main difference between Pere Noel and Santa Claus is that Pere Noel rides on a single donkey called Gui (Misletoe). When France began to embrace their Santa Claus and other non-religious icons of Christmas, religious authorities in Dijon set fire to an effigy of Santa Claus in protest. They called Santa a usurper and a heretic and said he was paganizing Christmas!  Wow!

Like children here in the States, French children write letters to Pere Noel. They all do so in class and because of a law passed in 1962, all letter written to Santa must receive a postcard so that everyone in the class would get a response! French children also leave hay for Gui in their shoes and receive small presents or candy in return, like the Dutch. The presents under the tree are usually opened on December 24, following their Christmas dinner, which they call Reveillon.

In the past, Reveillon signaled the end of a four day advent fast, but that is no longer practiced. In Paris common réveillon dishes include goose liver pâté, roast turkey or roast goose stuffed with prunes and pâté, special preparations of potatoes and vegetables, cheese, fruit, nuts, and for dessert, bûche de Noël (Christmas log), a special chocolate, cream-filled cake shaped like a log. Other regions have their own special traditions. For instance, in Southern France, there is a choice of 13 desserts, one for Jesus and each apostle. Common dessert foods are fresh and dried fruits, marzipan, sweetbread and cookies. 

I am finding it very interesting that so many Christmas legends involved these scary people to frighten the bad children. When I think of Christmas stories, boogeymen aren't usually what comes to mind and I didn't know that any of them existed before this week. I hope you're all learning as much as I am! Tomorrow, Germany! Joyeux Noël!


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