Back in the olden days, when people regrettably didn’t have television, internet, or Facebook to occupy their time, there was no greater fun than scaring the shit out of little children. And what better way to bring on those delicious little-kid tears than by celebrating Krampusnacht!
Wait, WTF is Krampusnacht?
Krampusnacht, or Krampus Night, is a very very old holiday celebrated in Alpine countries (such as Germany, France, and Austria) during the first week of December, but particularly on December 5th and 6th. Supposedly a terrifying, horned demon-creature called Krampus accompanies St. Nicolas during his Christmas season travels.
While St. Nicolas gets to wear awesome red robes and give out presents to well-behaved children and generally act like the good guy, Krampus has the delightful task of punishing the bad children by doing one or more of the following things:
- Scaring the shit out of them with rusty chains and bells
- Stuffing them into barrels
- Throwing them in a big black sack
- Beating their butts with a birch switch
Damn. All of that sounds equally terrifying to me. What happened to just giving them a lump of coal?
Krampusnacht is an extraordinarily old holiday and it may even pre-date Christianity as a pagan celebration. In fact, in places like Austria and Bavaria on December 5th and 6th, the men get wasted and dress up as Krampus and go around terrorizing children
(sounds like a good time) and the women wear masks depicting Frau Perchta, a Germanic pagan goddess.
“Perchta” means “the bright one” and Frau Perchta is considered a variant of the Germanic/Norse goddess Frigg or Freja. She is often depicted as a female spirit in a white robe and, like Krampus, she is said to wander the countryside during the wintertime, most specifically during the time before Christmas, and especially on December 12th, Twelfth Night.
Also like Krampus, Frau Perchta knew if children of the household had been good or bad during the year. The good kids would receive a small silver coin in their shoe. For the bad kids, Frau Perchta would slit open their stomachs,
pull out their innards, and replace them with stones and straw. (Sleep tight, kids!)
The masks of Frau Perchta have two different styles: Schönperchten, which means “Beautiful Perchten” and Schiachperchten, which means “Ugly Perchten.” The beautiful mask is supposed to grant people good fortune and wealth, while the ugly mask was used to drive out demons and ghosts. It might also have made the wearer constipated, but that’s just my interpretation.
Who knows why such a cool ass holiday as Krampusnacht never caught on in the States? After all, we love making children cry ALMOST as much as Europeans do…
Either which way, grab your mask, a black sack, and a nice flask full of absinthe (the favored drink of this holiday) and have yourself a merry little Krampusnacht. Your kids will thank you when they’re older. :)