When I was a child, we would put out our stockings on December 5, hoping Saint Nicholas would bring us a small toy in anticipation of Christmas. Besides getting a gift, I had never given much thought to the actual Saint called Nicolas, or why we celebrated this “small Christmas” weeks before the real one. Eventually, my parents stopped reminding us to put out our stockings, and the entire holy day got wrapped into Christmas.
There are many stories about Saint Nicholas, most written hundreds of years after his death. He is said to have been born wealthy but gave up his life of luxury for a life of service. In one of his most famous acts of kindness, he is said to have saved three girls from being sold into prostitution by dropping gold coins through their window each night for three nights so their father could afford a dowry for them. Nicholas is attributed to saving three innocent soldiers from execution and also for chopping down a tree that had been possessed by a demon.
But a legend of Saint Nicholas Day that I had never heard of, was that of Krampus. When I began researching legends of the Vosges for the book, I came across this sidekick of Saint Nicholas. I thought I would write about him to bring another legend of the Vosges to light.
Krampus began as a pagan celebration. He is said to be the son of Hel from Norse mythology but became wrapped into the Christian tradition of Christmas.
So, if you are reading this on December 6, Nikaustag, Saint Nicholas Day, that means that you have been good and Krampus did not eat you the night before. Kinda scary for a child’s story, but …whatever…
According to the legend, a half-goat, half demonlike creature with long curly horns, a forked tongue, and a furry black body named Krampus, would arrive on December 5, Krampusnacht or Krampus Night. He would chase both children and adults through town, poking them with sticks if they were naughty. Particularly, disobedient children would be visited that night, and depending upon the severity of the misbehavior, would either be eaten or would be given coal.
Happy Krampus Night and Happy Nicholas Day tomorrow!