5th of December: Krampus
6th of December: Sankt Nikolaus.
Nikolaus is a father Christmas like figure. Originally Nikolaus was a bishop somewhere in a now Turkish region. Legend tells us about how he gave pearl necklaces to young girls so that they wouldn’t have to prostitute themselves anymore but live a nice, simple life selling the pearls.
Nikolaus is oftentimes followed by up to 6 Krampusses. Krampus or Knecht Ruprecht is some kind of hairy devil with a long read tongue, carrying chains. Due to his stuid, forceful behaviour he also is some kind of a sex-symbol.
Krampusses are really stupid, dangerous and loud creatures. Luckily they are controlled by Nikolaus dressed as a bishop all in red, carrying a golden bishop’s crozier and a red mitre.
Many archaic costums exist around Nikolaus and Krampus.
Nikolaus secretly brings presents and vanishes unseen
On the evening of december 5th Austrian children put their shoes outside. Some time in the evening they hear a kock on the door. When they step putside, the shoes are filled with nuts, apples, oranges, Lebkuchen (some kind of a cookie spiced with Cardamon and made from rye) and a chocolate Nikolaus or Krampus. (And other stuff, depending on what the parents put inside or around the shoes, like a new pair of skis or an mp3-player)
Krampus sends you a birch
On the evening of december 5th Austrian children put their shoes outside. Unluckily, the children were misbehaving. Therefore, no goodies in the shoes – only coal (nowaydays coal made from sugar). Other present received: Birch with a red ribbon.
Oftentimes the birch is not put in font of the door but outside of the window. „Jemandem die Rute ins Fenster stellen“ (to put a birch onto someone’s window) is a saying deriving from this costum.
Krampus sends you a birch II (grown-ups only)
Male people could express their desire for a certain woman by giving her a birch with a red ribbon together with a really cheeky card (spanking in the context of these Krampus cards means making love, not spanking) . Nowaydays the birch can be surrogated by chocolate, but the cheeky cards stay.
Nikolaus asks about your behaviour
In the evening Nikolaus and the Krampusses (in some towns parents have managed for their kids to only get visits by the good guy, Nikolaus, without the Krampusses bringing terror to their home) knock on the door. Nikolaus carries his usual equipment (red mitre, golden bishop’s crozier) and a huge book. Inside his book he has some kind of Stasi protocol about each kid. Reading out from the book he looks at the kid and says some personal words to each kid. This can go like:
Nikolaus: „Hello Katie. I’ve heard you are a nice little girl wo loves to help her parents in the kitchen. Only that sometimes you steal cookies. You shouldn’t do that, but you sure know that. Anyways, since you are such a good kid, I’ve brought you a nice present. “
It can also work as some really terrifying punishment expedition. Nikolaus, followed by several Krampusses (yanking their chains and jumping up and down in their big, hairy costumes) enters and reads a whole protocol of sin. Nikolaus: „Hello, Ron. Oh, you are such an evil little fellow, I know everything about you. You never obey your parents. You never do your homework. And you even hit your little sister. The Krampus brought you a birch. Next time he’s going to birch you/ take you with him. “ (Does anyone still wonder about why Austrians turn out so weird?)
Nikolaus asks about your behaviour II
see I. Only in church and in front of the whole town.
On the plus side, there are no Krampusses inside the church.
The Krampuslauf (Krampusses run amok.)
I don’t know if this costum exists in all of Austria, I’ve stumbled across it in Salisbury. It slightly resembles the Roman Lupercal and has something to do with fruitfulness and patriarchy.
Setting: Evening. Crowd gathers in a circles. Everyone knows that the Krampusses are going to come. You can hear their chains and their bells (the bells are on their chains or around their necks) from afar. An atmosphere of danger is bulding up. Enter the Krampusses whose goal it is to flog everyone around (preferably women in tight trousers or short skirts who line up for it) with their birches or their chains.
Since these masked people have a certain tendency to overdo their deed and things got out of hand a few times the Krampusses of Salisbury now have large numbers on their fur so that the individual under the mask can be held responsible. Krampusses without numbers are arrested on the spot.
Also see my soon-to-come Perchten entry.