In the misty forests of the northern Alps, under cover of darkness, mysterious figures are making their rounds through the snow.
As he has been doing for many centuries on December 6, Saint Nicholas appears out of nowhere, to bring blessings and gifts to children. If they were good, that is. Bad children may receive a visit from someone else instead …
Saint Nicholas (also known as Nikolaos of Myra) was a third century monk and bishop. Many good deeds and miracles are attributed to this worthy man. He was particularly kind to children.
When I was a kid growing up in Europe (and perhaps because I was a rebellious one who usually identified with the underdog), I was always more interested in Saint Nicholas’ sinister companion and servant: the Krampus. While Nicholas represents everything that is kind and good, the Krampus is a bird of different feather. I kid you not — the Krampus is liable to make children (and sometimes adults too) wet their pants.
Perhaps you were not so good last year. The Krampus might administer a thorough lashing. If you are lucky, that is. He might also fling you over his shoulder and into his knapsack, and take you to places where you really don’t want to go.
Like many of us, Saint Nicholas also emigrated to the New World. But he did not fare well in America.
First, “Saint Nick” was stripped of his dark companion. In America, violence is something kids ought to watch on TV every day, Christian holidays are supposed to be sanitized. Next, Hollywood agents called for a name change. “More catchy and easier to pronounce, please! And drop the “Saint”, so that Protestant majority won’t be offended. How about Santa Claus?”
Then, because too much seriousness is bad for publicity, Hollywood producers admonished him to cheer up and smile for the cameras. And the outfit now had to be a brighter, flashier red.
Worst of all, Wall Street hired Santa as the official spokesman and promoter of “Christmas” cheer and consumerism. Increasingly frustrated, Santa gorged himself on American junk food for comfort, until he became grotesquely obese.
What a shame! Today, there are so many ill-behaved children in America. And of course, these turn nasty, ill-behaved adults. I propose that what America really needs is less Santa Claus … and more Krampus! Wouldn’t it be great?
I love old postcards, so here are a couple of images of greeting cards from the the early 20th Century. (Click to enlarge).
And so, should you hear a rap on your door late tonight, you might think twice about opening. Who might your visitor be? Saint Nicholas — or rather the Krampus?