Père Fouettard: Santa's Sidekick Who Beats Up Kids
Move over, Krampus! Meet the Whipping Father, Père Fouettard if you’re nasty (or French). As one of Santa's many creepy friends, Père Fouettard travels alongside the man in red to dish out violent delights to disobedient children. Known mostly in the northern and eastern regions of France, the Whipping Father stalks through the country with his flog in hand on Saint Nicholas Day. The best that a bad child can hope to get from the Whipping Father is a lump of coal, and those who are truly wicked get---wait for it---a whipping from Santa's sociopathic buddy.
The Whipping Father was the Freddy Krueger of his day
Where does a monster like this come from? In 10th-century France, stories circulated about an innkeeper, or sometimes a butcher, who kidnapped wealthy boys and drugged, tortured, and killed them before taking their money and cooking their bodies in a stew. In some variations of the story, he hangs their bodies to dry age during the wintry months, because everyone knows that rich kid tastes better when it's tenderized. Nothing escapes the ever-watchful eye of that North Pole overlord, however, so Santa Claus pounced on the child killer of indeterminate employment and carried out his own brand of Laplandic justice: He resurrected the killer's victims and forced the man who would be called Père Fouettard to work as his partner.
Leather tanners love this guy
There’s no clear origin story for the Whipping Father, and while his early life as a child-killing innkeeper/butcher/amateur cook is all well and good, it's just as likely that he started working with Santa Claus in 1552 after the Siege of Metz, a town in eastern France. The siege was a small part of the Italian War of 1551 in which the French fought off thousands of troops from the Holy Roman Empire before dragging an effigy of Charles V through the streets. It happened to take place through the Christmas season, and around the same time, a group of tanners happened to come up with a creepy mascot for their profession who was armed with a whip and wrapped in chains. His sole focus on Earth was to punish disobedient children, and how that relates to tanning is something we can all agree is best left unquestioned. Somehow, the tanner mascot and the effigy of Charles V became mixed up with one another, and the resulting abomination became known as Père Fouettard.
Père Fouettard is très scary-looking
Let's say---hypothetically, of course---that you've been bad this year. How do you know who to watch out for? Could the Whipping Father be any old guy walking around the block, secretly keeping a whip in his satchel? Or is he a hairy, horned demon like Krampus?
Traditionally, he's an old man in a set of dirty robes, but at some point in the hundreds of years since his introduction to the Christmas story, the Whipping Father thrust off the trappings of an innkeeper-meets-butcher to become something more sinister. The ravages of time have been unkind to Whip Daddy: His hair is ratty and long, and his beard is filled with tangles fit for a bird nest. Dressed in dark robes, he carries either his trusty whip, a large stick, or a handful of switches that are sure to leave a mark. Like Krampus, he sometimes wears a woven bag that he uses to steal children. In some illustrations, he's a kind of anti-Santa in a black suit rather than a red one.
Unfortunately, the Father Whip has recently been co-opted by European racists who use the character as an excuse to wear blackface throughout the Christmas season, claiming it's because the character has a "dirty face." Child abuse and kidnapping is one thing, but to many Europeans, racism is just too far.
Father Flog comes to America
Source: Yale University
The tradition of whipping children during the Christmas season finally came to America in the 1930s, although by this time, the Whipping Father's name underwent some changes that kind of take the bite out of his horrible character. At different points in time, he's been known as "Father Flog," which sounds like something you'd hear in a dungeon, as well as the snappier but even less fortunate "Spanky."
Father Flog is essentially the same character as the Whipping Father, but rather than working with Santa Claus, he goes around the country with Mother Flog, a female spanker who encourages her paramour to commit atrocious and ironic acts, depending on who they were dealing with. For instance, if a child was deemed a liar, they cut out his tongue; if a little girl stole, they cut off her hands. Without Santa's "good cop" to balance out the Whipping Father's horrifically bad, he descended irretrievably down the path of death and destruction.
Should you be worried about the Whipping Father?
Unlike Santa or Krampus, the Flog Father doesn't have an innate sense of morality. He started out bad, only whipped into shape by Santa Claus after he was caught murdering and eating children, so yes, children, you should worry about the Whipping Father. Maybe he's not coming for you this year---it's an awful long trip from France to most of the world---but you never know when he's going to hitch a ride to your neck of the woods and teach you thing or two about what it means to end up on the naughty list.