Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Krampus - Scourge of the Sinful

Christmas. The season of carols, candy canes, and Krampus. Certainly you know who Krampus is! Wikipedia definitely does:
Krampus is a mythical creature who accompanies Saint Nicholas in various regions of the world during the Christmas season. The word Krampus originates from the Old High German word for claw (Krampen). In the Alpine regions, Krampus is represented by a demon-like creature accompanying Saint Nicholas. Krampus acts in conjunction with Saint Nicholas; the latter gives gifts to good children, while the Krampus gives warnings and punishments to the bad children. Traditionally, young men dress up as the Krampus in the first two weeks of December, particularly in the evening of December 5, and roam the streets frightening children and women with rusty chains and bells. In some rural areas the tradition also includes birching by Krampus, especially of young females.
Certainly you know what "birching" is!
Birching is a corporal punishment with a birch rod, typically applied to the recipient's bare buttocks, although occasionally to the back and/or shoulders.
This medieval woodcut illustrates:

Or how about these more modern renditions?

Nothing like a dose of Teutonic cheer.
Ah, what fun (though not as much fun as St. Nick seems to be having, peering through that window).

Of course, in Dutch folklore, we have a similar, though less diabolical, character: Black Peter (or Zwarte Piet).
Although it is said that the origins of Zwarte Piet are unknown, it seems most plausible that Zwarte Piet is a continuation of the much longer held tradition of depicting Sinterklaas in the company of a dark skinned man, thought to be the Devil. He is also depicted as the slave of Sinterklaas. This was due to the pervasive belief amongst Europeans that the Devil would resemble a Moor....

According to myths dating to the beginning of the 19th century, Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas) operated by himself or in the companionship of a devil. Having triumphed over evil, it was said that on Saint Nicholas Eve, the devil was shackled and made his slave. A devil as a helper of the Saint can also still be found in Austrian Saint Nicholas tradition....

Zwarte Piet is often portrayed as a mischievous but rarely a mean-spirited character. Parents used to tell their children that if they have been good, Zwarte Piet will bring them gifts and sweets, but if they have been bad, Piet will scoop them up, stuff them in his huge dufflebag and spirit them away to Spain as punishment. Though this is increasingly uncommon nowadays, he can still carry some type of whip or scourge (called a "roe"), especially a birch, which could be used for birching or in modern words, to chastise children who have been too naughty to deserve presents.
Okay, okay, enough with the birching. (Interesting side note: some claim that Santa wields a whip based on this tradition. Yes, and to drive his sleigh.)

Here in the States, we've made Christmas so joyful, so sanitary. Let's not lose sight of Krampus and all the things he represents (pain, punishment, retribution). This video should help get you into the true holiday spirit.

Remember: He's making a list and checking it twice. Gonna find out who's naughty or nice. Santa Claus -- and his
sadistic, unforgiving compatriot Krampus -- are coming to town.

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