Tuesday 6 December 2011

Saint Nicholas and Krampus
Were You Naughty Or Nice?

Don't be sassy with Krampus! A true Tale

Saint Nicholas Day
Naughty or nice,
on which List
are you? ;-)

A True Krampus Tale

In the rural area of Upper Austria -
where I spent my childhood -
Saint Nicholas visited our house on the
eve of his feast day, and always in company
of at least one Krampus.

I must have been four or five years old,
when I was sure I had recognized a friend of my father's
behind the fearsome Krampus mask. I also figured that
his pelt was really a winter jacket worn inside out and
the chain he was dragging along and rattling noisily
looked like the ones used in cow barns.
He was carrying a large wooden pannier on his back,
just like the one the baker from the next village used
to transport bread.

I don't remember how it started,
but at some point I began to taunt him:
After all, I had been a good girl,
so what was I to be afraid of anyway?
At the end, I challenged him to try to fit me in the pannier
and before I could say anything, was I high up in the air,
lifted into the basket, and out the door we galloped!

I was still giggling when we passed our garden gate and
reached the country road that led towards the village -
we lived outside, amongst fields and meadows -
when all of a sudden I realized I had no shoes and
started begging to please be let go.

Saint Nicholas lifted me at once out of the basket and
onto the icy road and I ran home, with stockinged feet,
through the snowy landscape,
and ran and ran as fast as I could,
all of a sudden sensing danger all around me.

The End

"Traditional celebrations of Saint Nicholas Day
in Northern Europe included gifts left in children's shoes
(the origin of our American Christmas stockings).
Good children receive treats - candies, cookies, apples and nuts,
while naughty children receive switches or lumps of coal.
Sometimes coins were left in the shoes,
reminiscent of the life-saving doweries the saint provided.

Today - especially in families of German extraction -
children still put a shoe outside their bedroom doors
on the eve of Saint Nicholas Day, and expect to find
candy and coins or small gifts in their shoe on December 6th.

In some households the father of the family
may dress up as Saint Nicholas on the eve of his feast.
He comes in, sometimes with his sidekick,

Krampus or Black Peter,
and helps each child examine his conscience.
He admonishes the bad and rewards the good."
Quoted from: -> St. Nicholas

Pictures taken
5 December 2009
Images and my own text
All Rights Reserved © by Merisi
Repost from December 2009


  1. What a lovely childhood memory...and scary, too lol...but I loved it and the explanation that you gave of St. Nick's sidekick!
    Photos? What can I say you are a master...

  2. Oh Merisi, that is hilarious, and so beautifully illustrated!

  3. How funny! what a pert miss you must have been!

    And what an interesting thing the Crampus is -- a pagan survival, do you suppose?

  4. How is it possible that I could have reached the age that I have reached, and not know of Krampus.

    Merisi, this post is one to hold onto for a long time. I have got to ask my also not-so-young brothers if they know of this tradition.

    As always, however, I can rely on the beauty of your photos. xo

  5. What a great story!(photos awesome, as usual) Is Black Peter related to Strumpelpeter?
    Either way, Happy St. Nicholas Day!

  6. Merisi,

    Wow!!! What a wonderful post!!!! I loved reading your story!!! I would have been terrified as well!!! Had never heard of Krampus...such a fascinating tradition!!! And the photos from the candy store are, as always, simply exquisite!! And the candy will put a few pounds on me--just looking at it ;-) Happy St. Nicholas Day, dear Merisi! Love, Janine XO

  7. The 1st image is so adorable. Your story is wonderful, really captures the feelings of a child and brings back memories and sensations of that time.

  8. Sandi McBride,
    thank you, Sandi!
    Every time I read Robert Frost's "Stopping by the woods on a snowy evening" do I think of that mad dash home through the snow. ;-)

    Wandring Star said...
    Oh Merisi, that is hilarious, and so beautifully illustrated!

    Vicki Lane,
    yeah, probably more pert than plucky! ;-)

    Yes, the Krampus goes back to long-ago, Pre-Christian Alpine traditions. I know of one, the Perchta or Berchta (English: Bertha), also commonly known as Percht and other variations, was once known as a goddess in Southern Germanic paganism in the Alpine countries. Her name means "the bright one" (Old High German beraht, bereht, from a Common Germanic *berhto-, ultimately root-cognate to Latin flagrare "blaze", flamma "flame") and is probably related to the name Berchtentag, meaning Epiphany (the link will take you to Wikipedia):

    "The word Perchten is plural for Perchta, and this has become the name of her entourage, as well as the name of animal masks worn in parades and festivals in the mountainous regions of Austria. In the 16th century, the Perchten took two forms: Some are beautiful and bright, known as the Schönperchten ("beautiful Perchten"). These come during the Twelve Nights and festivals to "bring luck and wealth to the people." The other form is the Schiachperchten ("ugly Perchten") who have fangs, tusks and horse tails which are used to drive out demons and ghosts. Men dressed as the ugly Perchten during the 16th century and went from house to house driving out bad spirits.[10][11]
    Sometimes, der Teufel is viewed to be the most schiach ("ugly") Percht (masculine singular of Perchten) and Frau Perchta to be the most schön ("beautiful") Perchtin (female singular of Perchten).
    Today the Perchten are still a traditional part of Salzburg and Austrian holidays and festivals (such as the Carnival Fastnacht). The wooden animal masks made for the festivals are today called Perchten.
    " (Wikipedia - really worth reading in its entirety).

    Wikipedia has also a Krampus link, but I found the Perchten give a better picture about the ancient origins of these pagan customs.

  9. Frances,
    for us children (I was the oldest of eight), the Nikolaus and Krampus were important mostly for one thing: The goodies they left for us in our boots outside. A bar of chocolate, an apple or two, clementines and walnuts and peanuts to be cracked open and eaten in the warm "Stube" - living room - afterwards!

  10. ds,
    as far as I know, Struwwelpeter is a figure invented by the German writer Heinrich Hoffmann:
    And now with sudden swift emergence
    Come the women in dark glasses, the humpbacked surgeons
    And the Scissor Man.

  11. Sniffles and Smiles,
    thank you, Janine!
    I got some chocolate this year,
    tasted just as good as the one of my childhood. ;-)

    this is one childhood memory that I relive every time I think of it, running home through the stark white landscape, afraid the dark trees along the brook would turn out to be wild things. ;-)

  12. Lovely story! Thanks for comments. Hope your little one is healthy now. I am very busy( I work part time form home) and tired so can't respond in time. Love you all.

  13. I had been telling Tash my Krampus story and she directed me to your site. We were visiting my grandparents near Zagreb back in '51 when I was four years old. I had no idea who Krampus was, but I was so frightened, that I wet my pants. I too, with some embarrassment, recount this story every year. Do you think these two events somehow warped us for the rest of our lives?

    It was fun reading your story and seeing your pictures. My dear grandfather was from Vienna.

  14. beautiful. we put out our shoe as kids...

  15. Thanks for the link, Merisi! Fascinating!

  16. In Holland the St. Nicolas tradition is a little different. The bishop of Myra comes with several Moorish helper, called black Pete. They mostly add humor. The naughty kids will go in black Pete's jute bag, taken to Spain, where St. Nicolas comes from.
    The kids put hay, carrot in their shoe by the chimney for St.N.'s horse which rides on the roofs, since he delivers presents for the good kids the night before. Black Pete, climbs down the chimney delivers the present and takes the hay, carrot, etc. with him.

    The adult St.Nicolas parties are bringing a present with a rhyming poem. You read the poem out loud and unwrap the present. Of course, there are also the sweet goodies to heighten the joy.

  17. Thank you Jeannette,
    this is the first I hear what black Pete is actually about!
    Interesting, that the kids are supposedly taken to Spain. Myra was in Asia Minor, after all (Turkey today).
    Googling for Asia Minor, I found this interesting site, The St. Nicholas Center:
    http://www.stnicholascenter.org/Brix?pageID=205 - a treasure trove of information about the saint.

  18. Loving your photos from far away, and memories of Christmases past.

  19. What a great childhood story! I really enjoyed that! I hope you didn't get sick from running home barefoot in the cold!

  20. thank you, Country girl! :-)

    no, I didn't get sick! I used to wear rubber boots to play in the icy waters of a brook near my parents house and every now and then my boots would fill with water. I kept on playing. I remember one particular time when we went sledding afterwards, for hours, and the top of the boots was frozen when I came home, the wool socks frozen too. Somehow I survived. ;-)

  21. What AWESOME photography Merisi!

  22. I have a lovely photo taken of me with SinterKlass..oh yes it was a long long time ago :-)

    I am on the naughty table, not right being good all the time. :-)

    Oh yes I have to believe in Santa again..grandchildren..must remember..!

  23. This is perhaps my favorite post you have ever left for our enjoyment.
    I can just see a clever girl suddenly fall into the 'other realm'. It is the stuff of myth and legend. That place not far out from our back doors. And that, of course is the magic of Christmas.

  24. What an interesting story. Sure says don't mess with Krampus even if you've been a good little girl.

  25. Sam,
    overconfidence was something I had in great abundance back then! ;-)

  26. Sassy and cute.

    Reading your blog for the last 10 minutes has been getting me in the holiday spirit.

    Merci Merisi!

  27. I can't decide if I would have been hilarious with fun or fear...I'm thinking you were a pretty brave little girl...I would have taken the cowards way out, lol!

  28. I find it fascinating to learn of the traditions of other countries. Never heard the origins of this one before.
    The gifts of fruit like Clementines may explain why I always got an orange or tangerine in my stocking on Christmas morning. I'm Swedish. My hubby has German heritage and always insisted we put tangerines in our kids stockings too.
    Sometimes one doesn't question why a tradition is done, it's just done.
    Thanks for the delightful photos and info.

  29. I enjoyed this all over again!

  30. Lovely, Merisi - it's interesting to find out more about St. Nicholas celebrations elsewhere! Love the photos, and your childhood memory - oh my gosh, you were precocious @ 5 ;) I don't think I knew the whole thing was an elaborate 'set-up' till I was at least 7 :)

    I have no idea why our Sinterklaas lives in Spain - I suppose it's warm enough but closer to the Netherlands? I guess he retired there ;) He arrives the first Saturday after St. Martin (which is celebrated by children with Chinese lanterns, going door to door to sing songs and get lots of candy on the 11th of November) - incidentally the 12th of November this year (...). He gets here by steamboat, filled with presents and Zwarte Pieten (black Peters), and starts by appearing in shopping malls, schools and other kid-filled places. Kids can put out their shoe at home, and at intervals, small presents or sweets will be delivered ;) & then finally, on the evening of the 5th, he brings sackcloth bags filled with presents!

    We had a lovely evening, Monday :) But to be quite honest, I'm glad it's all over and we have at least a few days before decorating for Christmas again... Such a busy time of year!! (but it's especially the commercialisation of these events that put me off!)

  31. Thank you all for your comments and for sharing so many of your own memories of Saint Nicholas!

    Regarding the 2012 date:
    I prepare most posts a day or so before, then use the "Post Options", which lets me chose when the post will actually appear online. Well, somehow I must have typed in the wrong date!

    Til we hear or see us again,

  32. What wonderful images this story has created for me.

  33. YOWZA! what a story :O
    kind of scary wonderful
    you were a brave kid...
    An Amazon Woman in the making!

  34. Such a perfectly wonderful childhood memory Merisi! Thanks for sharing so eloquently.

  35. It's all so lovely, and news to me as these celebrations do not happen here in the UK.I think we miss out.

  36. I must have been the naughty one-did not get anything:)

  37. This might be my favorite post of yours, ever. <3


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