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Pennsylvania German[edit]


Certainly a compound of some /bɛls/ syllable plus a diminutive/hypocorism of the name Nicholas; the first component is conventionally viewed as Bels (pelt/fur), but the homophony involved with pelts (furs/Bels/pels) and pelting (belting/beating/belse/pelzen) is evidenced in all of these Germanic languages (English, Pennsylvania German, and some German dialects) and cannot be excluded as an influence on the overlapping notions of Belsnickel as a pelt-clad figure who pelts naughty children. For example, some Rhenish dialects have pelzen or belzen, "to wallop or to drub",[1] and Pennsylvania German has belse, "to beat/flog".

Proper noun[edit]

Belsnickel m

  1. A companion of St. Nicholas in some Germanophone regions, with various cultural roles, including rewarding well-behaved children with gifts and punishing ill-behaved children by corporal punishment or by spiriting them away from their homes. Homologous with Krampus in other regions.
    • 1973, Slaymaker, Samuel Redsecker II, Captives' Mansion: An American Family Chronicle Covering Nine Generations and Two Hundred Years in a Pennsylvania Rural Manor (in English), Harper & Row, →ISBN, page 39:
      [Describing a market scene of the 1780s] Spotted throughout the marketplace, too, were piles of greens—cedar and pine trees—awaiting purchase by the German burghers, who would dress them gaily in candles on Christmas Eve while their kinder watched—some quaking from fear of the Belsnickel Man, who was prone to seize and carry off in the dead of that very night all wee transgressors of the year just past.
  2. St. Nicholas.
  3. Santa Claus.


  1. ^ Schunk, Gunther (2002-12-06), “"Pelzmärtel und Herrscheklaus: Wer kommt am Nikolaustag?"”, in Volksblatt: Tageszeitung für Würzburg[1], retrieved 2021-08-29