The Belsnickel: Who needs Santa when you’ve got his raggedy, kinda creepy/kinda funny, sidekick? Think of the Belsnickel—which translates to something like St. Nicolas in Furs—as Santa’s enforcer if Santa’s enforcer was played by someone who dressed a lot like Keith Richards. See, the Belsnickel—whose roots are in Germany, and who thus lives on in Pennsylvania Dutch communities—goes around house-to-house before Christmas, armed with a switch (No biggie. Don’t even worry about it.) and an all-knowing eye. He checks up on kiddies, and if they’ve been bad, pulls a goofy menacing act and tells them to straighten up before the Big Man gets to town. If they’ve been good, he sometimes throws candy at them and they have to pick it up before he whacks ‘em with the switch. As I said, no biggie. IT’S JUST HOW THINGS ARE DONE IN LANCASTER, OKAY?
Moravian Sweet Treats: YUM. MY. So the Moravians—a super early Protestant sect who fled persecution in Bohemia and Moravia and, whaddya know, settled my hometown of Lititz in the 1700s—are known for, among other things, their Christmas Eve Vigil. My mom took me once because we’d never been and it was supposed to be a thing. She remembers it as “too liturgical,” (who even says that, ever) but all I know is that I got to stuff my face with the famous Moravian Love Feast Bun (eeeexcellent name) which was, in this instance, drenched in milk. Aaah, I can envision the sugary mess slopped all over my face right now. Even better than the bun, in my humble little opinion, is Moravian Sugar Cake, which involves sugar, cinnamon, and …. mashed potatoes. How can this be bad? You’re right, IT CAN’T BE. So here you go; get baking.
Christmas Trees: Geez guys, my Pennsylvania Dutch peeps not only had to bring pretzels to the New World, but also Christmas Trees? Uh, you're welcome. Here's the deal: The earliest known mention of a Christmas Tree in the United States is from an 1821 diary entry from a Lancaster man called Matthew Zahn (SUCH a good Lancaster County name, amirite?), so I'm gonna go ahead and claim that my home county is also the home of the first Christmas Tree in the U.S. To be fair, these folks also perhaps hung their Christmas trees ... upside down ... from the ceiling ... and covered them with edible treats. Maybe some things are better left in the past?
See? What did I tell you? Weird and delicious. Now scoot and see for yourselves!