Tomorrow is the Feast of St. Nikolaus, where good children will wake up to small gifts and/or sweets left by St. Nick in their boots outside their bedroom doors. Naughty children wake up to disappointment and a lump of coal, hopefully inspiring them to change their ways or resign themselves to a life void of giving.
Leaving aside the inherent creepiness of an old man breaking into houses and concerning himself with children’s shoes, let’s talk about his sidekick. In the Netherlands Sinterklaas is joined by his associate Zwarte Piet or Black Peter, a delightfully racist caricature usually in black-face. In Austria a helper also accompanies St Nikolas, tasked with dealing with naughty children. Unlike the Netherlands however, this Krampus is something truly out of the deepest, darkest depths of Germanic storytelling.
- A Krampus in Salzburg in 2008. From Wikipedia.
On the 5th of November in some places in Austria, men dressed as Krampus wander the streets of their towns or villages, terrorizing locals. Their terrifying costumes help in this, with heavy, shaggy fur coats and grotesque masks. In their hands they often carry switches or large branches, in place of the traditional brooms Krampus is often shown carrying. Why does he carry a broom? Well, to hit children, of course. Why else would you carry a broom?
It’s their actions though that I find particularly chilling. During the day, when it’s all fun and games, they might go so far as to use their “brooms” to hit young men on the legs. At night, and especially after drinking, the Krampusse can turn especially violent, doing serious injury to bystanders and even sexually assaulting women. I’m sure for some it’s a serious tradition celebrated in good faith, though that doesn’t make up at all for the serious and regrettable actions of other celebrators.
But then I don’t live in Austria, so I can’t say much to it. We don’t have Krampus here in the Rheinland. I’ll just leave you with this video and let you make up your own minds about Krampus.
You can also read more about Krampus here. Happy St. Nikolaus Day.