December 24th, 2009
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Just remember — you can’t spell Satan without Santa. My favorite Christmas decoration is a lovely card ornament showing Santa shoving a screaming child into his bag. Santa freaks me out the way that clowns freak me out, because they’re monsters in disguise. I’m not alone in this. In the older parts of Europe — where American homogenization hasn’t taken root — St. Nicholas has some ne’er-do-well companions, the kind your parents warned you about.
The best-known is Krampus or Belsnickel, who hails from Austria, and Krampus Day is still celebrated in the mountain villages. Krampus is a demon with a long tail, matted fur, horns and a filthy bag for scooping up children. He prowls while rattling chains and switching teenage girls with bundles of birch branches, often with his tongue hanging out and horns akimbo. Throwing snowballs at him is supposed to scare him off, and children place their shoes outside the door, filled with candy and fruit, in an effort to buy the demon off.
There are other scary Santa companions, including the shambling ghost Knecht Ruprecht and impish Black Peter, but it is Krampus who is the most popular among parents who want to scare holy hell out of their kids. Only in American is it punishment to simply NOT receive a present.
In the Alps today, there are Krampus “runs” in which villagers dress up as monsters and prowl the streets, switching screaming children, copping feels from girls and drinking, drinking, drinking. Yeah!