Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Good Cop, Bad Cop

You probably know the lyrics to "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," especially the first part: "You better watch out / You better not cry / You better not pout / I'm telling you why..." or something to that effect. In this song, the only reason why not to do all of the above is because, of course, "Santa Claus is coming to town." It goes on with the creepy stalker stuff, like watching you in your sleep, following your every move, etc.

What's not mentioned is Santa's sinister counterpart, known by many names in various cultures. Here's some shoddy copy-and-paste research (by yours truly) using the ever-trustworthy Wikipedia:

Krampus (the one pictured to the left):

The word Krampus originates from the Old High German word for claw (Krampen). In the Alpine region the Krampus is represented by an incubus in company of St Nicholas. Traditionally, young men dress up as the Krampus in the first two weeks of December and particularly in the evening of December 5 and roam the streets frightening children (and adults) with rusty chains and bells. In some rural areas also slight birching especially of young females by the Krampus is part of tradition.

The present day Krampus costume consists of red wooden masks or Larve, black sheep's skin and horns. Considerable effort goes into the manufacture of the hand-crafted masks, as many younger adults in rural communities engage competitively in the Krampus events.

Knecht Ruprecht
is commonly cited as a servant and helper, and is sometimes associated with Saint Rupert. According to some stories, Ruprecht began as a farmhand; in others, he is a wild foundling whom St. Nicholas raises from childhood. Ruprecht sometimes walks with a limp, because of a childhood injury. Often, his black clothes and dirty face are attributed to the soot he collects as he goes down chimneys.

In some of the Ruprecht traditions, the children would be summoned to the door to perform tricks, such as a dance or singing a song to impress upon Santa and Ruprecht that they were indeed good children. Those who performed badly would be beaten soundly by Servant Ruprecht, and those who performed well were given a gift or some treats. Those who performed badly enough or had committed other misdeeds throughout the year were put into Ruprecht's sack and taken away, variously to Ruprecht’s home in the Black Forest, or to be tossed into a river. In other versions the children must be asleep, and would either awake to find their shoes filled with sweets, coal, or in some cases a stick. Over time, other customs developed: parents giving kids who misbehaved a stick instead of treats and saying that it was a warning from Nikolaus that "unless you improve by Christmas day[citation needed], Nikolaus' black servant Ruprecht will come and beat you with the stick and you won't get any Christmas gifts." Often there would be variations idiosyncratic to individual families.[citation needed]

The companion of the French St. Nicholas, Père Fouettard (the whipfather), is said to be the butcher of three children. St. Nicholas discovered the murder and resurrected the three children. He also shamed Père Fouettard, who, in repentance, became a servant of St. Nicholas. Fouettard travels with the saint and punishes naughty children by whipping them. In modern times he distributes small whips, instead of thrashings, or gifts.

All I can say is...holy crap! This isn't even mentioning the blackface Dutch/Flemish tradition of Zwarte Piet, and even if you get past the historical racial insensitivity thing, it's still pretty bad:

Often portrayed as a mischievous or even mean 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 (a logical place of origin for the black assistant from the time of submission of 'heathen' Moors during the Reconquista). Though this is considered increasingly outdated nowadays, he can still carry some type of whip or scourge, especially a birch, which could be used for birching or in modern words, to chastise children who have been too naughty to deserve presents. The character is believed to have been derived from pagan traditions of evil spirits. Also being told or shared for decades is that the Zwarte Pieten are black because of chimney soot and or mockery of the darker Spanish occupiers.

So there you have it: Two partners - one saint and one not - working together to keep your children in line and obedient to society, through the promise of reward and the fear of punishment. Saint Nicholas and Krampus. Since the demon Krampus comes from the word for claw, we can soundly suggest that Santa Claus and Satan Claws will bring your children what's comin' to them.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Krampus photo credit: Klafubra.

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