Earlier this year, before Jeremy went off to recruiting duty, we thought that he would be sent to Germany for recruiting duty instead of central Illinois. It seemed to make sense that with us already OCONUS that the military would save money by sending us to another OCONUS location. Sadly, it was not meant to be. But before we found out for sure, you better believe I researched the heck out of Germany, its culture and its traditions.
One of the extremely interesting traditions I came across was the folklore around Krampus. Outside of a really bad horror movie by the same that came out a few years ago (and I refuse to watch), I hadn’t really heard of Krampus before. I love Christmas because it is usually a happy, cheerful time with loved ones. I never knew there was a darker side that was made to help scare children into behaving. While Santa Claus comes each Christmas to reward the good little boys, Krampus comes to kidnap and kill the naughty children.
Krampus is described as being a large half goat and half demon with large horns, fangs, a long tongue, and oddly one human foot and one goat foot. Krampus is wrapped with thick chains that covered in bells so that the children can hear him coming. He carries bundles of birch sticks that he uses to smack people and naughty children with. He also carries a large bag or basket on his back, similar to Old St. Nick’s, that he uses to carry the naughty children away. Legends vary on rather Krampus eats the naughty children, drowns them, or just drags them down to hell with him when he returns. Either way, it’s not a cheerful ending for the child. Theories on the origins of Krampus change according to which research you read but most consistently I read that when Pagan traditions were being redesigned to fit Christian holidays locals used the Horned God the Pagans used to worship. The chains that wrap Krampus’ body are meant to symbolic of binding the powers of the Devil.
Just like Christmas traditions for some, people send out Krampus holiday cards. These cards have been sent out to friends and family members since the 1800s. Just like Christmas cards, most have funny poems. These cards are called Krampuskarten. In some places, families leave reminders of Krampus up all year round to remind their children to behave. This typically a bundle of birch branches that used by Krampus to smack misbehaving children.
December 5th is known as Krampusnacht which means Krampus Night. On this night, young men dress in Krampus costumes and stalk around towns and festivals looking to scare those who pass by them. These runs are called Krampuslauf, or Krampus Runs.
According to Amy over Amy’s Crypt (an awesome blog y’all need to check out), she recommends that if you ever get a chance to go to Krampusnacht, to go to one of the festivals in Salzberg, Austria. The festivities there go from late November to early December. The pictures below are from the Krampusnacht festivities in Salzberg this year. (I have permission from Amy to use these photos in this post. Be sure to go check out her awesome blog and her post about Krampus.
On December 6th, On St Nicholas’ Day, Santa Claus will go door to give presents to good little girls and boys. Traveling with Santa Claus is another being by the name of Knecht Ruprecht or Servant Rupert. Knecht Ruprecht is either described as a comely man dressed in brown robes or as a demon that looks similar to Krampus. In fact, most of the stories I came across kind of seem to borrow from each legend. Some of the lore behind Knecht Ruprecht says that he was servant or farmhand that St Nicholas took in. Other lore says that he was a horned wildling that St Nicholas took in to do his bidding. But the most interesting because it is so specific is that one year while St Nicholas was visiting families and businesses, he came across a horrible scene. In Myra, a shopkeeper or butcher had taken in three little boys that had knocked on his door. He killed them with an ax and then shoved their bodies into pickle barrels. When St Nicholas had seen what had happened, he brought the boys back to life. As punishment for his crimes, the shopkeeper or butcher was taken as a servant to work for St Nicholas for the rest of eternity.
Anyways, the role of Knecht Ruprecht is to travel with Santa Claus and while Santa Claus is dealing with the good little boys and girls of Germany, Knecht Ruprecht would discuss the children’s behavior with the parents. If the parents say their children were well behaved that year, Knecht Ruprecht would leave the children alone. However, if the parents said that the children had misbehaved that year, Knecht Ruprecht would give the child a switch of birch wood before dragging the child out into the woods to beat them with their new switch. Ouch.
I know there are parents out there that have conversations about whether to raise their children to believe in Santa Claus or not. Jeremy and I, on the other hand, have had discussions on which Christmas demon we will use to terrify our future children into behaving. We’ve tried just using Santa Claus with the cats (our practice children) and it only seems to work for Katniss when Christmas stuff is around.
For those of you who are Patreon subscribers, you already know that this week and part of next week, I am focusing on Christmas themed posts to share with you. Tune in tomorrow to the Patreon page to hear about some Victorian traditions that you may not have heard of and ought to be brought back.