Krampusnacht & St Nicholas Day

Living on this side of the Atlantic , I get to see a bit more of how the holiday season is observed in other countries. England seems to generally have adopted a more North American approach to Christmas. However, other countries in Europe still observe centuries old traditions, depending what region you live in.

Two of these old customs are Krampusnacht, on December 5th and St Nicholas Day on December 6th. Krampus, who is thought to be a part of Germanic folklore, is a scary character who reminds me very much of some of the Old World fairy tales. Tales like Baba Yaga are downright frightening, and Krampus, one of several companions of St Nicholas, is very scary indeed! Huge, horned and hairy, his job is to punish naughty children and scare the rest into behaving.

Krampusnacht is observed with parades featuring men dressed as Krampus. I’ve seen some videos of the parades and behind the scenes of the mask and costume makers who help bring the character to life. A look around YouTube will easily produce some interesting viewing.

I lived in Germany for four years when I was a child and I don’t recall ever seeing Krampus in the Christmas festivities we saw, so it must be a regional thing. Its really fascinating, if rather scary for children.

December 6th, St Nicholas Day, is still very significant in many European countries. This is the night St. Nicholas visits and leaves gifts for the children. Churches will have St Nicholas Eve mass and the good Saint is often seen visiting homes. We had a visit from St Nicholas, who was actually a friend’s son in costume, when I was a child living in Germany. He scared the dickens out of my younger brother so its a good thing Krampus didn’t show up along with him! He left small bags of treats and admonishments to behave ourselves. Leaving your shoes or slippers out on the night of December 5th for St Nicholas to fill with treats is still a custom.

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I don’t know about Krampusnacht, but I’m sure my grandchildren, Amelia, Ben and baby Zoe, would love to leave their slippers out for St Nicholas! For more about the Saint, please visit the St. Nicholas Centre which has been my favourite St. Nick site for several years.

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