In some German and Pennsylvannia Dutch communities, Belsnickel shows up a couple weeks early, filthy and dressed in rags and furs to beat the children who have misbehaved. One Philadelphia newspaper from 1827 recounts a visitation from Belsnickel: “Mr. Belsnickel [makes] his personal appearance dressed in skins or old clothes, his face black, a bell, a whip, and a pocket full of cakes or nuts; and either the cakes or the whip are bestowed upon those around…”
In some accounts from 1870s New York and Philadelphia, Belsnickel took punishment to the extreme by threatening to kidnap or drown badly behaved children. Some Yuletide revelers would dress up in his guise and go “Belsnicking.” They would play pranks on their neighbors or sometimes became drunk or unruly and committed more serious acts of vandalism.