The folklore of the Krampus is prevalent throughout the Alpine countries in Europe, from Austria to the east and all the way to France in the west. The origins of the Krampus may pre-date Christianity, and its true beginning is lost in antiquity.
The Krampus is a large demon like beast. It usually appears with a huge protruding tongue, and its skin is brown or green in color. It has large horns, which protrude from its fierce looking face. It can carry chains, belts and sometimes birch switches.
What is it purpose of the Krampus? The Krampus carries chains, belts and switches for punishing naughty, misbehaving children. He also carries a sack, or a pack with him, and he will take children who are particularly evil, back to the forest with him to be devoured, or be taken to hell. At a minimum, the Krampus is a tale of a bogey man to frighten bad children into acting better.
Many people dress up as the Krampus for the holiday season. In many countries, this occurs on the night of the 5th of December, the eve before Saint Nicolas Day. There is a connection between our nice old Saint Nicolas, and the Krampus and it is a disturbing one.
St. Nicholas, or as many people call him Santa Claus, travels throughout the land giving good kids toys. We have established that the Krampus is a type of anti-Santa Claus, but how does he travel? He travels with Saint Nicholas. The dear old Saint Nicolas gives the Krampus a ride with him to the children’s house. The children then do not know if they will receive a present or be beaten by a giant demon, and you thought it was the excitement that kept children from sleeping on Christmas Eve.
The Krampus is not the only companion of Santa Claus. In many cultures, there are others who travel with him, but have a similar function as the Krampus.
Belsnickel is another traveling companion of Santa Claus in some parts of Germany. He wears a fur coat which covers his entire body. He delivers shoes of coal or switches to naughty children.
Zwarte Piet, or Black Pete is another aide to Saint Nicholas, particularly in the Netherlands and Belgium. He travels through the chimney, resulting in him having a charred black face. In some regions, he may, in fact, be he a “slave” to Saint Nicholas, and why his tale is considered racist by many people.
Knecht Ruprecht, or Farmhand Ruppert, is another companion of Saint Nicholas. His appearance is very similar to Santa Claus, white beard, but he is dressed in simple, or ash covered clothing. He acts as a servant for Saint Nicholas and may represent the peasant social class.
One thing you notice about Santa Claus, it appears, he does not like giving bad news to children, so he has someone else do it for him.
The Krampus, although a European tradition, has been making an appearance in American media. The cartoons, American Dad and Venture Bros. both have had episodes which feature him. I am a big fan of American Dad, but Venture Bros. is my favorite since it is a spoof of the show Johnny Quest.
Thank you for taking the time in reading my Blog about the companions of Saint Nicholas. I include medieval holiday traditions in my novel; "Legend of the Mystic Knights". It would make a great Christmas gift to anyone who has a kindle.
Next time: I promise to have a more cheerful look at the holidays.