The holiday season is quickly approaching, and children in many parts of the world are anxiously awaiting a visit from jolly old St. Nick. However, the children of Europe’s Alpine Region are expecting a visit from a more sinister character tonight…
In the US we tell children that they can expect a lump of coal from Santa if they’re bad. However, the children of parts of Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Romania, and Slovakia are told that their bad behavior will earn them a visit from Krampus. If Santa represents everything wonderful about the holiday season, Krampus is very much his evil twin. A horned, Sasquatch-like beast armed with rusty bells and chains, Krampus roams the streets under cover of darkness and punishes all the children who have been naughty over the past year.
Typical punishments include Krampus frightening children by shaking his bell-laden chains at them or swatting them with ruten (small bunches of birch branches). Those children who have been especially rotten can expect to be stuffed into a sack or barrel and carried away to Krampus’s lair.
Although it may not seem like something worth celebrating, Krampusnacht is quite an event. It’s traditionally celebrated the evening of December 5th, which is the evening before St. Nicholas’s Day. People exchange Krampuskarten, greeting cards with an image of Krampus doing something terrible on the outside and some sort of humorous poem inside. As dusk approaches, young men will typically dress up as Krampus and wander the streets with chains a-jangling. Many towns also have a Krampuslaufen where those dressed up as Krampus will race through the streets, typically under the influence of special Krampus schapps.
So for those of you who may not have been all that nice this past year, be thankful you only have a lump of coal in your stocking to worry about. It could be much worse.