French Language Blog

Santa’s Naughty Partner: Come Meet Père Fouettard! Posted by on Dec 22, 2016 in Culture, Music, Vocabulary

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!

There are only 3 days left until Christmas, so that means there are only 72 hours to right your wrongs from the past year to make sure you end up on Santa’s nice list.

In many countries, good little boys and girls wake up to presents under the tree and stockings filled with goodies. The rotten apples get a gift from the man in red, too, but it’s in the form of coal. What are you supposed to do with un morceau de charbon (a lump of coal)? Well, I suppose you could harness its energy  for electricty or apply enough energy to transform it into a diamond, but that’s for another blog.

While coal was on the lips of many American politics this past political season, it certainly was not on any kid’s wish list. And while bad kids in France also receive coal, they have another thing to worry about that anglophone kiddies get to avoid: Père Fouettard (Father Whipper)!

We all know the story of the Christmas patriarch Saint Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra who was the inspiration behind Santa Claus. Nicholas came from a wealthy family and spent much of his life sharing his wealth with those less fortunate than he. Santa is a very nice man to the kids all around the world, but homeboy works alongside Father Whipper, who takes care of the naughty kids.

So what’s this punisher’s story? His first appearance dates back to the 12th century. A local innkeeper (in some variations, he’s a butcher) and his wife capture 3 wealthy children who were on their way to enroll in a relgious boarding school. The couple rob the children, murder them, and cook them in a stew. Saint Nick was not happy and showed up at the innkeeper’s door. The innkeeper was transformed into Father Whipper and became an eternal partner with Saint Nick. Personally, I don’t see that as much of a punishment since the innkeeper continues to torture children, but I’m but a mere blogger.

On Saint Nicholas’s Day (le 6 décembre), Père Fouettard travels around and gifts coal and spankings. He’s pretty easy to recognize, too. Our cultures show Santa Claus the same way: a jolly fat man in a red suit with a big white beard. There are different representations of Father Whipper, but he’s easy to spot. Sometimes you’ll see him in dark robes carrying a bag with switches on his back. Other times, he’s wearing teh same suit as Santa, but it’s black. He has a darkened face from all the soot in the chimneys (and alas, sometimes, you’ll still see people playing him in blackface) and his beard is unkempt.

So you better be good whatever you do
cause if you’re bad, I’m warning you
you’ll get nothing* for Christmas


Alors, as-tu été sage cette année ?
So, were you good this year?

* = except coal and whippings

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About the Author: Josh Dougherty

Just your typical francophile. If you have any topics you'd like me to discuss, feel free to let me know!