I remember when I was young and my mother used to say to me at Christmas time, “If you aren’t good, you’ll be getting a bag of switches and ashes instead of candy.” Of course, I was always good. As time passed and I became older I realized that our Americanized Santa Claus had his roots in a much older St. Nicholas. What I didn’t know at the time was that St. Nicholas had a counterpart, a monstrous creature called Krampus who gave new meaning to the words in a common Christmas song, Santa Claus is coming to Town. Some of the lyrics are:
“He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake.
He knows when you’ve been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake!”
A Victorian Krampus card for Christmas with a naughty little boy!
According to the myth, if children were bad, Krampus carried them off into the dark woods where they were beaten with switches and sometimes thrown into a fire! Now that’s a Christmas monster for you. While St. Nicholas visited the good children, his companion Krampus snatched all the naughty ones and punished them. Like most fairy tales, the origins of Santa Claus are dark and mysterious. In medieval times when St. Nicholas and Krampus were popular, the Church held plays to entertain the people at Christmas time. It was always exciting to have a saint fighting with the devil. That is how the figure of Krampus evolved from a devil-like image who was associated with the bad that went on in the world. Personally, I can’t think of those Christmas switches now without thinking of Krampus.