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St. Nicholas's Bad Cop: Krampus

Was zum Teufel? What the freaking devil?

Exactly. Santa. Krampus. Good cop. Bad cop. Krampus! (“KRAHMM-pooss”) We all know about St. Nicholas- well, we all know Old Saint Nick, that jolly old elf, but our Christmas St. Nick comes from a Christian saint living in what’s now Turkey around 300 A.D. known for his charity, a man of kindness and giving. In Germany and into Eastern Europe, people commemorate his day, St. Nicholas Day, on the 6th of December. Someone dresses up as a white-haired, bearded bishop of old

So St. Nicholas is all nice and kind... who plays the heavy? Krampus

A young man or a bunch of young men... I’ll never be able to see the band KISS the same way again....

Young men dress up in monstrous masks, many of them really impressive (do a search online!), often explicitly as a devil, but a chained devil, who serves St. Nicholas and goodness, by punishing the bad children. A Krampus might simply scare children, or play-scare them. The next region may have formalized wrestling with Krampus. Or, some places, he may beat the living snot out of any he catches. It really varies.

One of my friends teaching English in Austria went out to see this event, and came back upset and bruised. Other people have a rollicking time. It helps to know if you’re supposed to brave the Krampusse (that’s the plural)- but without letting them catch you! This happens on Krampusnacht, Krampus Night of December 5th, the eve of St. Nicholas’ Day (and in the old traditions, each day began at sundown, so Christmas Eve, for instance, was the beginning of December 25th). So you get Bad Cop Krampus, actually, bunches of them, roaming the streets that evening, and kindly St. Nicholas bringing kindness and presents on the sixth.

Krampus is specifically Alpine-Central Danube (Bavaria, Tirol in the Alps, in Hungary and among the Czechs and Slovaks, among others); Krampus and his kin are very tied to each little region- each has specific traditions, and names- Buttnmandl in parts of Bavaria, Salzburg has their Kramperl, a little ways away, he’s Miglo. In Tirol, on the south side of the Alps, he may be Tuifl, Tuiflratzen or the like (meaning devil). The Protestant regions tend to have versions of Knecht Ruprecht (‘Rupert the Serving Man’ who is St. Nick’s muscle). He, in his many names and variants, is much more widely spread than Krampus (middle and northern Germany, the Low Countries, France). But he is much, much milder, and will have to wait till another Advent season to get his own blog posting.


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