Rumpliche: A Wendish Santa Claus

Bringing treats and trouble at Christmas

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One of the most anticipated, and dreaded, Christmas traditions in the Wendish community was the nighttime visitation from the bearded and switch-wielding Rumpliche.

Stomping into each house, this masked figure demanded parents tell him whether their children had been naughty or nice all year. Nice? Rumpliche handed the child a treat of fruit or nuts. Naughty? Rumpliche brought out the large sack he carried and threatened to stuff the often terrified child inside until he or she could correctly recite a prayer. This was not your usual Santa Claus.

Like egg noodles and the birds' wedding, Rumpliche was a cultural tradition brought to Texas by the Wends, a Slavic people from southeast Germany. Over 500 Wends from 65 cities and villages in the Lusatia region left their homeland in the mid-1800s to pursue better economic opportunities and religious freedom as Lutherans. Led by Reverend Johann Kilian, the Wends sailed into Galveston in December 1854 aboard the ship Ben Nevis and eventually settled near present-day Giddings in Lee County.

Each Christmastime, Rumpliche came to life when a young Wendish man put on a homemade mask and striped costume. The leader often carried a large staff as an emblem of his authority. Rumpliche and his helpers― other young Wendish men wearing costumes and disguising their voices― would go from house to house in the ritual interrogation. Joyce Bise, Executive Director of the Texas Wendish Heritage Museum recalls being so terrified as a child when the Rumpliches appeared at her house one night that she couldn't move from her father's lap.

Although the tales and memories of Rumpliche live on in Wendish culture, this rather scary Christmas character was gradually replaced by the more jovial Santa Claus figure during the 1950s.

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Rumpliche: A Wendish Santa Claus Artifact from Giddings, Texas
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