Personnages de Noël en Alsace

The legendary characters of an Alsatian Christmas

A little bit of history, a pinch of legend, a hint of mythology: Alsace is a region of rich traditions. As Christmas comes round again, expect to see not just Father Christmas, but a trio of characters: St Nicolas, Christkindel and Hans Trapp.

Saint Nicolas - Noël en Alsace

Good, generous St Nicolas

With a number of miracles to his credit, the white-bearded bishop, official title St Nicolas of Myra, is the protector of children, widows, the weak and prisoners. He was also the only person able to neutralise the fearsome Hans Trapp and chain him up to stop him committing his evil acts.

On 6 December, young and old come together to acclaim him. Staff in hand and wearing a mitre and long purple coat, St Nicolas rewards the most deserving children. Legend has it that he travels from chimney to chimney, visiting families, his sack full of sweets and gifts.

Hans Trapp - Noël en Alsace

The terrifying, grumpy Hans Trapp

With his stout figure, his surly air, wild hair and face darkened by a thick beard, Hans Trapp threatens to carry off disobedient children in his sack to abandon them in a dark forest from where they will never return.

Legend has it that in the 14th century, at the Château de Bewartstein, not far from Wissembourg in Northern Alsace, there reigned a feudal lord called Hans von Trotta, who terrorised the local population. Hans Trapp is thought to derive his reputation from this malicious lord. As Christmas approaches, this fearsome character accompanies St Nicolas in the traditional parades. Reward or punishment? When he’s around, our little darlings need to be on their best behaviour!

Christkindel

The meek and angelic Christkindel

With a pretty little face, dressed in a long white dress with a veil and wearing a crown with four candles, Christkindel is a graceful and benevolent character. As the source of light and eternal youth, she radiates hope and shows the way to children terrorised by the passage of the terrible Hans Trapp.

It is whispered that at midnight on 24 December lots of miracles occur: oxen and donkeys start to speak and the trees are covered in flowers until the twelfth stroke of midnight. But who is behind all these miracles?

Saint Nicolas - Noël en Alsace

The faithful companion Peckeresel

Where does that strange name come from? Well, put together “peck” meaning beak and “essel” meaning donkey and you get Peckeresel. He is the personal assistant of St Nicolas or the Christkindel, helping to distribute spice bread and other delicacies. Traditionally children place a wreath of hay on the doorstep to help him keep his strength up.

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