Santa's evil sidekick? Who knew?

By Alexandra Zawadil

GRESTEN, Austria (Reuters) - As Christmas nears, Austrian children hoping for gifts from Santa Claus will also be watching warily for "Krampus," his horned and hairy sidekick.

In folklore, Krampus was a devil-like figure who drove away evil spirits during the Christian holiday season.

Traditionally, he appeared alongside Santa around December 6, the feast of St. Nicholas, and the two are still part of festivities in many parts of central Europe.

But these traditions came under the spotlight in Austria this year, after reports last week that Santa -- also known as St Nicholas, Father Christmas or Kris Kringle -- had been banned from visiting kindergartens in Vienna because he scared some children.

Officials denied the reports, but said from now on only adults the children knew would be able to don Santa's bushy white beard and red habit to visit the schools.

Now, a prominent Austrian child psychiatrist is arguing for a ban on Krampus, who still roams towns and villages in early December.

Boisterous young men wearing deer horns, masks with battery-powered red eyes, huge fangs, bushy coats of sheep's fur, and brandishing birchwood rods storm down the streets, confronting spectators gathered to watch the medieval spectacle, which is also staged in parts of nearby Hungary, Croatia and Germany's Bavaria state.

Anyone who doesn't dodge or run away fast enough might get swatted -- although not hard -- with the rod.

"The Krampus image is connected with aggression, and in a world that is anyway full of aggression, we shouldn't add figures standing for violence... and hell," child psychiatrist Max Friedrich said.


Friedrich, who says Krampus is scary because people can't communicate with a mask, doesn't get much of a hearing in the traditionalist towns of Lower Austria and the Salzburg and Tyrol regions that hold the most elaborate Krampus processions.

In Gresten, 3,000 people, including many children, packed the kerbs of Dorfstrasse one recent night to await his coming.

The horned figure suddenly burst out of a dark corner, shouting menacingly at onlookers and waving his birchwood whip.

As he knocked over a metal crowd barrier and waded into the spectators, a boy who identified himself as Simon flinched.

"Don't worry," a nearby adult assured Simon. "Krampus won't do anything to you. He's not allowed to."

Johann Leichtfried, a young Krampus actor in Gresten, defended his role and said most children were fascinated by Krampus's symbolism. "Krampus is for the kids."

But not everyone agrees.
Listeners of Austrian youth radio station FM4 shared the horror they felt when first confronted the figure.
"Krampus scared ... me when I was seven," said one, identified as Riem on FM4's Web site. "I panicked that I was never going to see my father again because a hoofed human wanted to throw me in his wooden backpack."
But Friedrich conceded there had been few known cases of "Krampus trauma."
He said Krampus remained a popular custom probably because "there's a phenomenon of finding fear attractive," pointing for example to the frequently frightening, sometimes gruesome, plot twists in the classic fairy-tales of the Grimm brothers.
Sometimes, Krampus can get carried away -- in some towns in the Tyrol and Salzburg areas, some of the horned devils have lost control after downing a few too many beers or schnapps.
"In Tyrolean communities ... the Krampus actors have to wear a number so everyone can know who the bad guy is behind the mask, just in case," said Friedrich.

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.
Those Austrians should lighten up and look to their forefathers if they want to know how things should be done ... the fabulous writing by Heinrich Hoffmann, particularly Struwwel Peter (external - login to view), are German, but that's close enough to Austrian. There was no ***** footin' around back then and it didn't cause anyone any permanent harm.
L Gilbert
Getting people that the kids know to be the SCs? Isn't that like conspiracy to murder their beliefs in the supernatural and superstitious? Atrocious.
God another country falling all over it's self to be Politically Correct, will this madness never end? NO
Ok, im dutch heritage..but even I have to admit Black Peter is just wrong.

Now Krampus..Krampus is pure gold..the ole Good Cop / Bad Cop routine.
Quote: Originally Posted by ZzarchovView Post

Ok, im dutch heritage..but even I have to admit Black Peter is just wrong.

Now Krampus..Krampus is pure gold..the ole Good Cop / Bad Cop routine.

In defense of Dutch folklore, I think Zwarte Piet is a bit like Elves ... aren't they dwarfish or Irish or something equally politically incorrect? Both Zwarte Piet and the elves are child like and serve the great St. Nick.

"Before the beginning of the 19th century, Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas) operated by himself or in the companionship of the devil. (Having triumphed over evil, it was said that on Saint Nicholas eve the devil was shackled and made his slave.) A devil as a helper of the Saint can also still be found in Austrian Saint Nicholas tradition.
Saint Nicholas is said to come from Spain and with the evolution of the story his helper became a Moor. Until the second half of the 20th century, Saint Nicholas' helper was not too bright, in line with the old colonial traditions. Once immigration started from the former colonised countries Zwarte Piet became a more respected assistant of Saint Nicholas.
According to the more modern Saint Nicholas legend, Zwarte Piet is a servant who accompanies Saint Nicholas on his holiday travels. In some versions, it is alleged that Saint Nicholas once liberated a young slave named Peter, who decided to serve Nicholas (as a free servant) rather than enjoy liberty alone. Zwarte Piet is today commonly depicted as a black man in the colorful pantaloons, feathered cap and ruffles of a Renaissance European page, a tradition based on a single illustration in a book published in 1850.
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.
The traditions of the Saint Nicholas feast are in part at least of medieval origin, if not much older. St. Nicholas himself, as described in the Dutch tradition shows some similarities to Wuotan/Odin, which suggests that the duo have a pre-Christian origin. Possible precursors to Zwarte Piet can be found in Odin's ravens Hugin and Munin." ( (external - login to view))

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