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Saturday, 5 December 2015

Krampus Day: The Traditions and Customs of Saint Nicholas Eve

The Krampus
December 5th, Saint Nicholas Eve is known as Krampus Day in some parts of Austria and the run of the Krampuses is preserved both in the Tarvisio area, in Italy near the Austrian border, and in S├╝dtirol/Alto Adige. Krampus is an evil demon that has a long tail, fur, rattling chain, birch branch, and big black bag. Children and adults go to the village square and throw snowballs to scare him off. On Saint Nicholas Eve children place their shoes on the window sill or outside their bedroom door to be filled with fruits, nuts, and sweets.

A Chocolate Krampus
The many legends and traditions surrounding the saintly Nikolaus' often wild companions are more diverse than those of the saint. The pagan origin of all of these figures is evident although difficult to trace. The best known companion is Knecht Ruprecht, "Knecht" meaning servant. Historically, Ruprecht was a dark and sinister figure clad in a tattered robe with a big sack on his back in which, legend has it, he will place all naughty children. However, Knecht Ruprecht also became the servant and companion of the Christchild. In this role Ruprecht became the patron saint of Christmas and was called "Weihnachtsmann," Father Christmas or Santa Claus.

This is quite in contrast to Bavaria, where St. Nikolaus may be followed by the hideous Klaubauf, a shaggy monster with horns. In Austria the saint is followed by a similar horned creature, called Krampus, covered with bells and dragging chains.

Who is Krampus?
 
St. Nicholas and the Krampus
The word Krampus originates from the Old High German word for claw (Krampen). The Krampus is a sort of devil who accompanies Saint Nicholas on the eve of December 6, in Styria this attendant is named Bartel. He accompanies Saint Nicholas, who visits every home during the night and leaves small gifts in the shoes of children who have been good during the past year. Those who have misbehaved, however, may get punished by his helper. He might take back the gifts that St. Nicholas left for them, and leave them a lump of coal instead. He might give them a birching with the switch he carries with him. Really bad children might even get carried off in his sack and taken along, or even put into an ink-well by St. Nick himself, as told in the Struwwelpeter: "Da kam der grosse Nikolas Mit seinem grossen Tintenfass.... Er tunkt sie in die Tinte tief, Wie auch der Kaspar "Feuer" rief. Bis "bern Kopf ins Tintenfass Tunkt sie der grosse Nikolas."

Krampus is also known in Austria as Kneckt Ruprecht and Black Peter. In Germany he may be called Pelzebock, Pelznickel (or Belznickel), Hans Muff, Bartel, Gumphinkel, Stoppklos, Black Pit, or Knecht Ruprecht. To this day, the Running of the Krampus (Krampuslauf) happens during the first week of December. In Salzburg, young men put on dark animal-skin suits, red carved masks with horns or antlers, and mismatched shoes. They stomp down the Getreidegasse, the main shopping street, ringing cowbells, pretending to snatch little children, and hitting people on the leg with the switches they use for tails. St. Nicholas follows behind, handing out candies.

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