- Holidays and Celebrations
The Saint Nick and Krampus Tradition in Germany During Christmas
The Counterpoint to Santa Claus and Saint Nick
To be clear, Santa Claus IS Saint Nicholas (St. Nick). He was a real Godly Saint in Greece, born around 270 A.D. After he became a bishop, he was known for giving gifts. The Romans did not like him for his religious beliefs and jailed him in 303 A.D. After his release was secured, he remained a well known bishop for 30 years in Myra. He died on Dec. 6th, 343 A.D. That is when the tradition began and coined, St. Nicholas day. St. Nick was well known for tremendous giving, such as dropping a bag of gold down a chimney to a very poor family.
As time went on, the Netherlands adopted St. Nick as their own tradition. Children would put out their wooden shoes so St. Nick could fill them. Back then, St. Nick arrived on a white horse. Germany also adopted the tradition but used a counterpoint threat to keep kids on their best behavior with the arrival of Krampus. It originated in the Munich area and Bavarian Alps. Steeped in religion, the Krampus were evil goblins, like those associated with today's Halloween. They were scary creatures who used the "fear factor" from their appearance to make kids obey their parents. The return of the Krampus started on the same day as St. Nick's day- Dec. 6th. The threat of the Krampus for not being a good person was physical- getting hit with a stick. They spread pre-Christmas fear among young kids and chased away evil spirits (this is odd, they were evil) that were worse than themselves.
St. Nick arrived in the USA around 1809, specifically, the New York City area, when an author used him in an article. He described him as a jolly man with a pipe dropping off packages from his wagon that flies at treetop level down chimneys. A few years later, another author wrote a poem about St. Nick with a Scandinavian twist- the use of reindeer and sled and for the first time the name Santa Claus. During the Civil War, in 1862, Harper's magazine had drawings of Santa Claus appearing until 1866. By then, Santa Claus was the American term for St. Nicklaus. But, Santa seemed to be a spotty tradition. It was not until Coca-Cola created the now iconic image of Santa Claus in the 1930s that cemented the American image of how he looked.
In Germany and much of Europe, the American image and tradition of Santa Claus has been eroding traditions, such as Krampus. American culture has infiltrated via all types of media and many of those under 35 yrs. old, know little about Krampus because that tradition died out by the 1970s. Middle aged or older Germans, still have the memory of the tradition from there childhood. So, a Munich group called, Sparifankerl Pass (Devil's Group) has reintroduced the Krampus in the city's old holiday market area. The marker has arts and crafts and now, evil looking creatures roaming around to scare kids into being good until St. Nick arrives!