Friday, 9 December 2011
In the twenty-first century, we've got so used to the idea that Santa brings gifts to good little boys and girls, it is easy to forget that not so long ago bad little boys and girls were likewise punished.
In the wild heartlands of Europe, such legends are not so easily forgotten, and so it is that in countries such as Austria and Hungary, on December 5 communities remember Krampus*, a demonic anti-Santa who accompanies St. Nicholas during the Christmas season, warning and punishing bad children.
In the Alpine regions, traditionally young men dress up as the Krampus in the first two weeks of December, particularly on the evening of 5 December, and roam the streets frightening children and women with rusty chains and bells. In some rural areas the tradition goes so far as to include the birching of young girls!
Images of Krampus usually show him with a basket on his back used to carry away bad children and dump them into the pits of Hell.
So when the fat man with the bulging sack asks if you've been good or bad, you'd better have been good, for goodness sake...
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You will find many other such tasty morsels of information in my book What is Myrrh Anyway?- and its American counterpart Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Christmas.
* The word Krampus originates from the Old High German word for claw (Krampen).