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Dec 5

Krampusnacht (Night of the Krampus)

Krampus
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The Krampus
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If you thought coal in your stocking was the worst thing that could happen to you for any naughtiness in the run up to Christmas ... think again.

The Krampus, sinister companion to St. Nicholas, is a long-horned, shaggy, goat-like monster with a fearsome expression and a lolling, forked red tongue who menaces children into good behavior before Christmas. A traditional folk figure originating from Tyrol, the Bavarian and Austrian Alps, the Krampus, on the eve of St. Nicholas' Day, December 6th, visits the home of misbehaving children to punish them - generally beating them with birch sticks and bringing them down to his underworld lair to live for a year! Europeans have been exchanging Krampuskarten, greeting cards featuring the Krampus since the 1800s, which often feature the Krampus looming over or abducting terrified children. Krampuskarten are now sought-after collectibles. Happy Holidays, kids!

On the eve of the feast of St. Nicholas,  December 6th, there is the darker European tradition of Krampusnacht, The Night of the Krampus, a sinister folkloric character whose pagan origins have become bound over time to more modern Christmas traditions.

This whimsical tartan, though not an official one, cleverly uses the colors of Irish Coffee, Sugar Cane, Wood Bark, Fire Brick, and Black, to hint at the Krampus' devilish origins and twisted associations with both gift giving and punishment. 

With origins that may predate Christianity (from Norse and Alpine traditions and German paganism), the Krampus, sinister companion to St. Nicholas, is imagined as long-horned, shaggy, goat-like monster with a fearsome expression and lolling, forked red tongue.  On the eve of St. Nicholas' Day, he visits the home of misbehaving children to punish them, beating them with birch sticks and bringing them down to his underworld lair to live for a year!  

Some scholars believe the Krampus to be related to the son of Hel in Norse mythology (Hel, daughter of Loki and overseer of the land of the dead). His name is derived from the German word  krampen, meaning claw. He has adopted  traits with other figures in Greek mythology, such as satyrs and fauns, and has been portrayed in a salacious manner in popular late 19th century greeting cards, Karmpuskarten, lusting after buxom women, or beating and abducting naughty children!

The Krampus figure is replicated in other regional traditions such as Black Pieter, Knecht Ruprecht, and Belsnickel, all of whom play the darker foil to the benevolent Saint Nicholas, and are used to frighten children into good behavior during the holiday season.

In Germany, the Krampus equivalent, Knecht Ruprecht ( Farmhand Rupert , Servant Rupert) was an old man with a long beard dressed in straw or covered in fur. He accompanied St. Nicholas and carried a bag of ashes, and one might hear his coming due to the ringing of tiny bells sewn into his clothing. Knecht Ruprecht expected children to be able to recite Christian catechism or say their prayers, whereupon he would give them fruit or gingerbread. If they hadn’t learned their lessons, it was said he’d leave them a stick or a lump of coal in their shoes at best, and at place the children in a sack, and either eat them or throw them in a river!

The Krampus tradition has seen a modern revival, with many cities and towns in keeping with old traditions, running a Krampuslauf, a gathering of revelers dressed in Krampus costume who chase people through the streets, swatting passers-by with sticks and ringing cowbells.  Or for those with a more athletic bent, some cities in England and the United States now host a Krampus Run, a race through the streets in Krampus costume.

For more on the Krampus and his origins, click the classic vintage Krampuskarten showing the Krampus bearing away naughty children and displaying his frighteningly long red tongue and birch switch!