The bad cop/good cop Christmas tradition: Krampus vs. St. Nicholas

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The sound of Christmas carols, the smell of freshly baked cookies, the warmth of mulled wine reminds us that is that time of the year again. While everyone gets overwhelmed with the upcoming festivities, parents can’t help themselves but warn their little ones to stay behaved if they wish to get presents. Santa Claus is always on the look and won’t tolerate naughtiness. In Central Europe, however, Santa is not that popular. Europeans have St. Nicholas who together with Krampus create a unique Christmas tradition. 

Krampus is coming into town

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Krampus has been terrorizing children for centuries. The tradition is hundreds of years old and has its origins in the Germanic folklore. Each December 5th is Krampusnacht (Krampus night). A half-demon, halfgoat with cloven hooves and angry stare prowls the streets in the famous Krampuslauf (Krampus run) and looks for little kids. His petrifying horns and dark thick fur give him such a grotesque appearance that even the bravest become startled by the beast’s occurrence. The ghastly creature wears chain with bells so people stay alerted of his coming. Moreover, he always has a tree stick with which he smacks unruly children. During Christmas people still keep this tradition alive as each year men dress up as Krampus and chase people all over town. 

The German Santa Claus

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If you survive that horrifying night, the next day you will be welcomed by St. Nicholass generosity. December 6th is Nikolaustag (St.Nicholas day). He is dressed in long red robe and wears a mitre. Moreover, he doesn’t leave the house without a bible in one hand and a golden crosier stick in the other. While Krampus puts them in a bag and takes the kids in his lair, the saint showers them with gifts. In the wide famous American tradition children leave sock on the fireplace. But Germans leave their shoes on the doorsteps which will be filled with gifts from their version of Santa. 

This pagan tradition has been sowing fear in children for centuries. Thus, it wasn’t considered the most popular way to celebrate such a joyful time. However, nowadays it has become so commercialized that almost everyone has heard about this German festivity. Although some find it unusual, the spine-chilling Krampus and the ‘goody two-shoes’ Saint Nicholas show us that there are many ways how Christmas can be celebrated.

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