In recent years it seems that Santa has become too much of a good guy. He’s lost his edge, turning into something like a free version of Amazon.com for kids. Place your order and you get your goods. Not all that long ago, Santa had a mildly threatening side. Take, for example, the lyrics to the classic 1934 Coots and Gillespie tune, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.
You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake
In Austria and other parts of the Germanic world, the Feast of St. Nicholas is celebrated on December 6th. If the threat in Santa Claus is Coming to Town is thinly veiled, in these alpine nations it is not. On the night before his arrival, Santa unleashes Krampus, a towering seven foot tall goat-haired demon. This is Yuletide child discipline taken seriously.
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Tugging furiously on the chains that bind him, he roams the streets, visiting homes and
businesses in search of unruly children. On his back is often a sack or basket, ready to carry them off to drown, eat, or transport to Hell. Here, being good for goodness sake just doesn’t make it. “In effect,” says Dave Kline, host of the Mountain Folk Radio & Web Show, “[Krampus] does the dirty work that St. Nicholas doesn’t want to deal with.”
In some places, the legend is still enacted every year by local townfolk wearing elaborate costumes and waving road flares. According to the German news magazine, Der Spiegel, when the children open the door, Krampus-clad men wave switches at them and ring loud cowbells. Sometimes the kids are made to run a gauntlet of Krampus, dodging whacks from tree branches.
“The ceremony was widely practiced until the Inquisition, when impersonating a devil was punishable by death. In remote mountain towns the tradition survived in violation of the church’s edicts. In the 17th century Krampus made a comeback as part of the Christmas celebrations. . .” — Der Spiegel
As part of the celebration, Europeans exchange Krampuskarten or Krampus cards. Sometimes bearing the terrifying words, Gruß vom Krampus (“Greetings from the Krampus”), the cards show disturbing scenes of children being chased, caught, chained and led off by the demonic figure. In some cases, krampuskarten show the demon chasing after buxom women. Still others have humorous rhymes and poems. Vintage Krampuskarten can be found on eBay and other auction sites for anywhere from a couple of dollars to $25.00.
Today, Krampus celebrations have become little more than a mid-winter bacchanal. The disciplining of children is of less concern, it is said, than wearing scary costumes while drinking heavily, roaming the streets and harassing the town’s young women.
Joe Miller, AtticExplorer.com
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