Who’s That With Old St. Nick?

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Krampus in Austria

“Up on the rooftop reindeer pause, out jumps good old Santa Claus”, but who is that crazy character that came with him? In many parts of the world children have a very different vision in their head, when Santa Claus comes to town.

Santa Claus is a tradition celebrated here in the United States, while many other countries observe St. Nicholas, a Christian bishop, whose generosity of giving worked its way into the traditions that are celebrated today.  There has definitely been a blending of Santa Claus and St. Nicholas but they are very different, indeed.  In Western Europe, St. Nicholas Day is celebrated on December 6th.   Often, St. Nicholas has a counterpart, who is the bad to his good, the yin to his yang.  You better watch out when St. Nick and his associate visit, especially if you were less than nice this year. Many of these traditions date back to the middle ages where there were strong themes of good versus evil.

Krampus
Krampus

These not so friendly acquaintances can be quite creepy. In Austria, for instance, there is a horned, hairy creature called Krampus, who takes the kids on the naughty list to its hellish liar. If you made the good list, which hopefully you did, then St. Nick will leave you fruits, nuts and sweets.

In the Netherlands, there is Sinterklaas (said to be part of where our version of Santa Claus came from) and his counterpart Zwarte Piet (translates into Black Peter, and political correctness is a definite issue with this, although the black is soot from going down chimneys, not the color of his skin) who will drag you off in a bag and teach you to be good, if you didn’t make the nice list.

In parts of France, there is the very scary Père Fouettard, a horrible child killer who is making up for his sins by eternally being St. Nicholas’s helper, not sure he will ever make that up for that though! Those that have been naughty should expect a whipping from this boogieman instead of any treats.

The Czech Republic has a tradition where Saint Nicholas comes with an angel to protect the children from the devil, who also comes, but is chained up; showing once again that good does overcome evil. Here the naughty ones get a lump of coal or a sack of potatoes and the real naughty ones get put into the devils sack and taken to hell, if that doesn’t make you want to be on the nice list, I am not sure what else will.

In parts of Germany, St. Nick travels with Knecht Ruprecht.  There are various traditions throughout Germany but they usually go something like this- Knecht Ruprecht carries a bag of ashes and a basket containing switches (branches used for whipping). He will ask children if they know how to pray, if yes, St. Nicholas gives them treats, often fruit, nuts, chocolates or gingerbread. If not, then Knecht Ruprecht beats the children with his bag of ashes. They are given coal and a switch is left for the parents to discipline them with.

So if you decide to be naughty, take caution, you are dealing with the forces of St. Nicholas, and his acquaintances don’t mess around. My advice, be good and have a wonderful holiday season whatever your beliefs are!

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Annual Christmas Holiday Traditions in Austria with Krampus

We first noticed this devil like creature when we were in Vienna.  Next to all the Christmas decorations was this strange little fella with horns, and I thought to myself that I needed to check into what this creature might be.  Maybe it was left over from Halloween, but realized Halloween is not a big holiday here, as of yet, although it is gaining in popularity.  I never had a chance to look into it while we were in Vienna. So when we arrived in Salzburg, and our lovely hosts at the apartment where we were staying, suggested that we go to a festival featuring this creature in a neighboring village the next evening, we jumped at the chance.  Take a look at what we found…

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Krampus! They were quite a spectacle!  I have never seen anything like it.  The tradition goes something like this.  On December 6th, St. Nicholas (who is similar to Santa Claus) and Krampus come for a visit.  Children are left apples, nuts and sweets if they are good and are dragged away by Krampus to his hellish lair if they are not.  So you better be good!

There are many festivals and parades called Krampuslauf, leading up to Krampusnacht, celebrated on December 6th.  They usually begin at night fall and large groups, mostly young men, dress in their incredible costumes and prance down the street, stealing hats and scaring people along the way.  We found ourselves at the Koppler Krampuslauf, on a snowy cold night.  It was a perfect time to enjoy some delicious hot punch and the girls had the kinder punch (non-alcoholic) to keep them warm.  Once the parade started we were close to the action, as it went on we moved back a little, my youngest daughter got a little scared of these beasts.  She knew it was all in fun, but their costumes and actions can be pretty scary! They were amazing! To learn about and be a part of this tradition dating back to the middle ages and earlier, was an incredible treat!

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