Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Can Be Scary--Krumpus

Christmas myths and legends are more than Santa Claus with his reindeer or eleves making toys in his workshop. It actually has a lot of scary stories attached to it. Ghost stories are told at this time of year, as often as at Halloween. Remember The Christmas Carol by Dickens? It is dark and scary, with ghosts in it. Other terrifying myths and legends are connected to the holiday also. After all, Christmas has its roots in pagan and Roman and Winter Solstice.

One of these scary myths is about Krampus. In many regions of the world, it is believed that St. Nicholas (another name for Santa Claus)had a companion that traveled with him. This creature was Krampus, though another like him was Black Peter, or Zarte Piet/Zwarte Piet. Black Peter is more a being associated with the Netherlands. Black Peter most likely due to Muslims--hence the dark skin.

But Krumpus, isn't like a man, dark or otherwise. He has horns, goat hair, claws, maybe even hooves--an incubus-like thing. He accompanies St. Nicholas during Christmas to warn and punish bad children, while St. Nicholas gives the good children gifts. Krumpus is sort of like black coal given to naughty kids, except coals can't scare you. Images of Krumpus have him carrying a basket on his back to carry away bad children and toss them into Hell itself.

The word, Krumpus, originates from the Old High german word for claw (Krampen).There is a tradition where young men dressed up in sheep skin, wooden masks amd horns. Much effort goes into the making of these hand-crafted masks. For the first two weeks, especially December 5th, these young men roam the streets, frightening children and women with rusty bells and chains. In more rural areas, some even carry out "birching", mostly on young girls.

Next time you cosy up on the couch before the fireplace with a cup of hot cocoa and watch a Christmas movie like "A Christmas Story" remember to make sure the door and windows are locked tight and be sure to stay good. For Krumpus may come a-knocking at your door.


Anonymous said...

i had no idea there was a krampus myth. what a terrifying contrast to santa claus

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing that :-)
-Sarah Ham-

Boone Brux said...

Yikes, who knew. I'm going to be good for goodness sake.

Boone Brux

Norman Wilson said...

As a mythologist, this one fascinates. Thanks for sharing it.

Mindy said...

I knew about Black Peter but never heard about the Krumpus.
Maybe the Krumpus/Krampus myth started around an aide to Nicholas of Myra?

Beth Caudill said...

I remember hearing about a companion who frightened children. But didn't know all the details. thanks for the reminder.

Judy said...

Why does everything evil have horns. He looks scary!! I love learning all the folk lores tidbits.
Thanks!! Happy Holidays!!

Heather :) said...

Get your Krampus t-Shirt here for next year!!!