As our country is a melting pot, it is also a melting pot of holiday traditions, and once they got here they were stirred and stirred round once more, emerging as something to be rewritten and retold until every community seems to have a version all their own. And so it went with St Nicholas, Belsnickle and Krampus, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
Tomorrow is St Nicholas Day, the gentle patron, giving gifts to the good children. Howsoever on the evening of Dec 5, it is Krampusnacht, Krampus, which means claw, carries a switch to punish the naughty children and to swat the bottoms of young ladies, he is rightly called the "jolly devil". With his broad smile and prominent red tongue he was depicted on most Victorian Christmas trees, often dressed in red,and carrying switches. The Victorians would often claim that the presence of the "jolly devil" was to remind us that there are two sides to everything. Krampus accompanied St Nicholas on his rounds, and really bad children got tossed into his backpack and were carried off. the slightly bad ones got a lump of coal and a swat.
But Krampusnacht was also for the adults who dressed in costume and went about the streets making merry and more than a little mischief.
From Bavaria, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland, along with their meager possessions the new arrivals brought their customs and stories, and in a new land they created their own versions of St Nicolas, and Krampus. A version more suited to the new land they found themselves in, dressed in robes which were sometimes made of burlap sacks and pelts, he went door to door with his bundle of switches, pockets filled with candy and fruit, and carrying a large sack. At each home the children gathered in front of him, he might ask them to recite their prayers, or something that they had learned in school,or just ask if they had done the chores, good children got candy and fruit, and the bad ones got a switch, the really bad ones got tossed into the sack and carried off, by Belsnickle himself.
~~all images from Krampus.com