Pelznickel Visitation

by Joanmarie Weiss
(Frankenmuth, MI, USA)

My husband's family has lived in the USA for five generations, but here in Frankenmuth many old traditions are still celebrated as the seasons pass.
When Margie, our first child, was about two years old, she and I both experienced our first visit from Pelznickel and his helpers. I was twenty-nine, and he startled and delighted me...our two year old absolutely loved him!
A knock on the back door of our old farm house announced a visitor on a cold December night about a week before Christmas. My husband went to see who could possibly be out on such a frigid night! His "Willkommen! Willkommen!" tipped me off that our visitor was of German heritage.
Clump, clump, clump: heavy boots on the stairway. Margie and I were both staring at the kitchen doorway as the visitor came in. Daddy was speaking in Frankische dialect and the visitor was, too.
I was taken aback by our visitor's appearance. Margie was, too, as she cuddled as close as she could into me! In walked a man dressed in a heavy, black fur antique coat. He had a bushy black beard, a black fur hat, black fur gloves, and a great big burlap sack that was bulging with bumps.
I've learned some German dialect over the years, but in our early marriage I didn't have too good a grasp of dialogue. So, I cannot share exactly what was said. Daddy told Margie (and me) that Pelznickel had come to see if she was a good little girl. If she was Pelznickel had some treats for her. If she hadn't been good, he'd pop her in his sack!
Our daughter has nerve. Drawing herself up as tall as she could and speaking with much spunk, she told Daddy and Pelznickel, "I'm Mom's helper with Scott (her baby brother)and I'm a good helper!"
Pelznickel laughed and laughed! Then, he asked if she'd like a gift. All fear forgotten, Margie walked over to him and started petting his coat! "It feels like my calf," she told him. Turns out the ensemble Pelznickel wore that night was an antique horse-hair coat, hat, and mittens from the 19th century.
Pelznickel gave Margie a gift from his bag. Then, he turned to my husband with a twinkle in his eye (is that where Santa's twinkle comes from?) and said he wasn't leaving until he warmed up a bit. "Got something to help me and my helpers warm up?" he laughingly inquired. Roger got out wine glasses and homemade concord grape wine to share with Pelznickel and his friends.
After Pelznickel and his helpers departed (one was a DD, Pelznickel had a full night in Frankenmuth that evening!)Roger explained to me the legend of Pelznickel. When he was a child Pelznickel came to visit him and his six siblings, too. In the Frankenmuth farm community, this tradition is sometimes shared among families having young children. I love the tradition. I hope Pelznickel will visit our granddaughter in a couple years and she can tell him she's a good girl, too!
As a young mother, and now that Margie is full-grown, I think back on that night fondly. It was the first time I met this particular friend of Roger's. Roger had no idea Pelznickel was going to make an appearance in our home. Truly, for me it was the same experience of fear, then delight, that young children have when he shows up on a cold winter's night asking for an accounting of one's behavior.

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Dec 10, 2022
Pelznickel in Wisconsin
by: Barb Rex

I enjoyed reading the 'Pelznickel in Frankenmuth story.' I have never run across anyone else who knew about Pelznickel. In my family, in Dodge Co., WI, "Penznickel" would come to fill our stockings on Dec. 6th (St. Nicholas Day), although we never saw him. This was a tradition from my mother, and I now realized that, to her, "Pelznickel" sounded like "Penznickel." I was trying to figure out what part of Germany celebrated Pelznickel, so I could find which of my ancestors brought this tradition to America.
My mother also told me about the "Doch Mutter" coming to visit, sometime around New Year's (maybe). It was an old woman who brought treats for the children. I have never found any information on this character, and don't even know how you would spell it; that's just how it sounded to my mother. The tradition sounds similar to La Befana from Italy, who visited on Jan. 6th (Epiphany).

Dec 03, 2017
Old Times Resuscitated
by: Joanmarie Weiss

The Pelzenickel visit to Margie was in 1996 or so. My husband's friend took the time to share a tradition that both of them remembered with our daughter. Truly, your family tradition does not have to die...
You have to carry on the tradition. For the parts you are not sure about, think up something wonderful to share!
Each generation is responsible for passing on these kinds of cultural traditions. I've spent an hour looking up ideas for Christmas this year: new or old, they all take personal time and energy and lots of love to accomplish. So, give the gift of time, memories, and love to a child (or a child at heart) this year.

Sep 05, 2016
Our Belsnickl in Pennsylvania
by: Dawn Schaffer

Our Belsnickl was very similar here in our German settlement in Pennsylvania. Only along with his sack of goodies he also carried a big stick. He would ask each child in turn if they had been good that year. If they were good they received a simple gift of cookies or something like that. If they had not been good they got swatted with the stick. To my knowledge no child ever got swatted, but rather ended up with sweets, and a smile and hug from Belsnickl. So sad that these traditions have died away. Now only memories from the old are all that's left and will soon too be gone.

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