Written by Cathugger.
Tomorrow is the 5th of December, Krampus/Nicolaus night, German children are cleaning their boots and putting them in front of their door in hopes of getting a visit from St Nicolas, or Krampus. There are many localized customs that go back thousands of years.
Like many pre-Christian figures Krampus has obviously been targeted and tainted with Satanic symbology and has to endure a form which should disturb God-fearing Christians, yet like many others he has prevailed.
Krampus has developed out of a close connection to the tradition around Frau Perchta. She is a female goddess of the winter who brings snow, safeguards the souls of the unborn in nearby lakes and ponds, and rides through the air with an army of the dead and on her night you should offer food and drink for her companions who will eat of it without it disappearing. If you do this, Perchta will grant you fertile fields and a good year while if you don’t host the dead, she will curse you and your crops. Christians desperately tried to eradicate this pagan belief but many Germanic people were just not willing to risk it.
While she is known to give hardworking people golden coins, golden yarn and fine wool she will find the lazy people, cut open their bellies, take out their intestines and replace them with rocks before drowning them, with Krampus joining in. They used to appeare between Winter solstice and the 6th of January, to drive the cold away, now they have been moved to the 5th of December, and their customs have been merged.
In the German-speaking region St Nicolas became a celebrated Saint in the 11th century and, in the 17th century Krampus joined him. While Santa was responsible for rewarding good behaviour Krampus would punish badly behaved chidren. The Christian desire to have characters representing pure goodness requires those characters to work together with something like a controlled evil so that misbehaviour doesn’t go unpunished in contrast, in pre-Christian times, Gods and mystic beings were fully capable of administering both punishment and reward, like a good parent.
While Krampus of is course still seen as the bringer of punishment in most places, fascinatingly in some regions this has changed. In a turn of events, the legend tells, that Krampus was fed up of having to punish children while St Nicolas got to be their friend, and that he too wanted to be the centre of laughter and happiness and not just of fear, so he left Santa and now brings children presents on his own.
In some regions the Krampus run is a tradition which is inspired by the ride of the dead. Young wehrfähig (wehrfähig = able to defend themselves) unmarried men dress up as Krampuses and run through the city, screaming, using bells and their rods on sometimes unsuspecting passers-by. Today women and children are also allowed to participate, the children are called Belznickels and the women are called Pelzhuren, Peltwhores.
Children dare each other to “Krampusreizen” (teasing the Krampus) which revolves around poking one of them or pulling their ears and then hopefully being faster than him when running away, for if the Krampus catches a child he will, lets call it discipline, the child using his rod on their hopefully thickly padded buttocks (of course its more about the thrill and not real child abuse).
A central thought behind pagan rituals is how embodying something invokes its spirit, and this is true in part even with our rituals today. Why would you, a 46-year-old accountant get up in the morning to hide eggs in the garden for your little ones to find? You would not do it, it doesn’t make any sense in your life, you are in fact invoking the spirit of the Easter bunny in that moment and he does it through you.
I think this part illustrates the above better than any others if you keep in mind that the men behind the terrible masks are young lads, they are the brothers and sons of the village who would never think about lashing out at a child who might be their own little sister, or their own son if they poked them, but when they put on the costume the spirit of Krampus is awakened in them, so they do what is to be done.
Every year in one place at least some of the Krampuses become a bit too over-zealous while using their rods on the citizenry, resulting in some citizens retaliating leading to mass brawls between Krampuses and men and hospitalizations. On the other hand organized and planned mass brawls as well as one on one combat is a beloved past time.
Another ritual is the Tischziehen (table pulling) in which men sit around a table and Krampuses and Belznickels arrive to steal it away, the men are supposed to defend the table and keep the Krampuses from taking it.
It is one of my favourite rituals, thats why I will include a video of it, I just want you to see how much the young men are enjoying it, how out of their mind happy they are, bruised, with torn of clothes in the mids of winter, but they got to fight literal monsters infront of their entire village.