The legend of Saint Nicholas

The three children and Father Whipper

This is the best-known legend about Saint Nicholas, and the reason he became the patron saint of children. There are numerous songs and poems about him, and different accounts of the story, but this is the original, best-known version. Look out for the three children and the evil butcher on Saint Nicholas’s float during the processions.

The legend of the three children

Three children went out to glean food. On their way home, they lost their way. After walking for a long time, they saw lights shining from a house. It was a butcher’s shop. The butcher welcomed them in and gave them food and a place to sleep for the night. Once they were sound asleep, he slit the children’s throats, cut them into little pieces and put them in a barrel of salt.

Several years passed. Saint Nicholas heard about the three little children. He went to see the evil butcher, and asked for a piece of salted meat to eat. Seeing the colour drain from the butcher’s face, the Saint blessed the barrel and opened it up. The children climbed out, fresh as daisies, saying how well they had slept.

Father Whipper

Father Whipper’s job is to decide whether children have been good, and threaten the naughty ones. He is a bogeyman. He puts the naughty children in the wicker basket he carries on his back

This legend appears to have originated in Metz in 1552, when the city was besieged by King Charles V’s troops. The Corporation of Tanners created a character, a cross between an ogre and a scarecrow, who was supposed to represent the king.

In German-speaking Moselle, Father Whipper is called Hans Trapp; in Alsace Bossue he is represented by an evil spirit called Mullewitz. Other people say that he is the butcher from the legend of Saint Nicholas. In Bavaria and Austria, he is called Krampus (meaning hook).