By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Krampus is certainly a very famous creature for the early holiday season! On December 5th, he has to visit a lot of homes throughout Germany to identify who the wicked children are.
But in order for him to get around, even he needs help! Saint Nicholas can only do so much, and perhaps all that’s needed is a wormhole so he can jump around. Realistically, he just needs other people who serve the same purpose as him to punish those who had been bad in the past year.
Some folks say he’s the one and only original. All others pale. Fortunately, this statement is not true. Although Krampus has been around since circa 4th Century AD, a few other figures have popped up in later centuries to help out or serve a similar purpose as him in other countries.
On this list includes a top ten (approximately):
In Hungary, St. Mikulás is basically Saint Nicholas without Krampus tagging along. He has full honours. The representative forces of good and evil who tag along is a generic angel and devil. The dentist may well replace the latter because any child who consumed all the sweets in a day may well have cavities!
In other parts of Germany, three legends have a sixth sense for identifying the naughty.
The Belsnickel hail from the Palatinate region of southwestern Germany along the Rhine, the Saarland, and the Odenwald area of Baden-Württemberg. He’s special because he was directly brought to America by immigrants who landed in the east coast to form the Pennsylvania Dutch colonies. But his influence is not limited to this region. Some have brought this figure to be recognized in Canada. Alternative names include Kriskinkle, Beltznickle, Pelsnichol, and the Christmas woman.
Frau Perchta is better known in Austria and Southern Germany. Stories of her dates from the 13th Century and are often varied. In what ties her to this season is in how families can maintain order. More specifically, for the lady of the house to have finished spinning that flax into threads for use as linen. If it’s not done by the Twelfth Night (January 6th), she’ll know and thrash that house! And yes, she’ll punish the woman of the house instead of the kids.
She’ll slice open the stomachs of those who have been bad. This gruesome fate can be avoided by families who make Perchtenmilch (a porridge) and offer it to her. They have a taste as though it’s to represent stuffing themselves with garlic to spoil the meat.
Haling from the northern territories is Knecht Ruprecht and he’s truly a wild man of the woods.
He didn’t come into prominence until the 17th Century. One account of his origin describes him as a human whom Saint Nicholas saved. Because of his size and strength, he did all the heavy lifting. He didn’t appear in literature until the late Middle Ages.
The confusion of whether the Krampus-like figure is man or beast is interesting. There’s no solid reason he must be furry and horned.
In France, Hans Trapp (Hans von Trotha) was a knight of ill repute. His infamy came because of his feud with the Order of Benedictine monks at Weissenburg Abbey and after death, he became a supernatural figure (because of his imposing height) to which many say appear in December, accompanying Saint Nicholas, in his sojourn to reward children.
The kids who weren’t got to hear about his legend, and the hope is that they will change their ways (akin to a certain Charles Dickens story) so they don’t end up like him.
Only two stories (one 12th Century piece and another 16th) exist to identify who Père Fouettard once was.
He committed murders and for some strange reason, was redeemed. He mended his ways after witnessing one of Saint Nicholas miracles and vowed to help. When considering this tale contains notes of cannibalism, the judicial system of France (more like the saint) is very lenient!
However, the other tale which saw the war with the Holy Roman Empire grow very inhospitable, just what he represents is not very well explained. Tanners took what they witnessed and created a new version of this figure. His purpose was to be the bad cop to the good cop that Père Noël represents.
His sphere of influence is in the North and Eastern regions of France, South of Belgium, and French-speaking areas of Switzerland.
Further north, in the Netherlands, lives Zwarte Piet (aka Black Peter). His time may well be up when considering today’s socially correct climate.
In 1850, he was introduced to the modern world as a dark-skinned servant from the Moors who would help Saint Nicholas out on December 5th. He’s less about punishing, but more about why many social classes exist. In parades, his role is to distribute gifts to those his superior has found to be good and not admonish anyone who admitted has done wrong in the past year.
In Italy,, La Befana is not as widely known. Some folklorists believe she’s a modern creation to reveal how good deeds are often rewarded. Those who helped received a gift, and those who ignored her got a thwack of her broom.
This concept came from how she helped the Three Wise Men. They came to her abode seeking rest one night, and she gave them a place to stay. They invited her to join, but she declined (a decision she would later regret). When she realized she’s missing out in history, her pilgrimage became the stuff of legend and she’s forever looking for baby Christ.
But the list doesn’t end there. Three fantastical monsters exist.
Over in Iceland Grýla has been around since the 13th century and she’s an ogre. This Christmas witch didn’t get this label until the 19th Century.
In this country, Yule is celebrated and has similarities to Halloween. The supernatural can wander the mortal realm and do what they like! This matriarch of beasts hunts down naughty boys so she can make soup out of them! Her kids, the Jólasveinar (Yule Lads) have the duty to scare children to behave when even she has a tough go (or is busy preparing the soup base).
When they aren’t tough enough, the Jólakötturinn (Yule Cat) comes out. He can only be placated by seeing kids wear new clothes. The poem the latter exists in is told by parents to encourage their kids to work hard year round!
Ultimately, these creations are similar such that they are to frighten or punish those miscreants. The hope is for them to change their ways, otherwise where they end up is often at the end of a stick or in the stomach of one of these beasts. No child wants that!