Who is Sankt Nikolaus?
The American Santa Claus, as well as the British Father Christmas, are derived in part from Saint Nicholas, a Greek priest and later Bishop of Myra, in Asia Minor (modern-day Demre, Turkey) around the 4th century. The historical Saint Nicholas is commemorated and revered by Catholics, Lutherans, and Orthodox Christians, as well as most other sects of Christianity for his miracles and his legendary habit of secret gift-giving.
The feast day of Sankt Nikolaus is observed on December 6 in Germany, and he is welcomed by large crowds in public squares and at Christkindlmarkten. In more Catholic regions, St. Nikolaus is dressed very much like a bishop and rides on a horse. He has a long beard, and loves children, except when they have been naughty.
The historic St. Nikolaus had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him. This practice is celebrated on his feast day in Northern Germany: children put a boot outside the front door of their house on the night of December 5 (St. Nikolaus Eve), and he usually fills the shoes with gifts and candy. At the same time he checks up on the children to see if they were good, polite, and helpful the last year. If they were not, he will put a stick (Rute) in their boots instead.
St. Nikolaus also visits the children at school or in their homes and asks them if they have been good (sometimes ostensibly checking his golden book for their record), handing out presents on the basis of their behavior. St. Nikolaus thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose modern name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas, itself from a series of elisions and corruptions of the transliteration of Sankt Nikolaus.
Who is Krampus?
In Bavaria and Austria (as well as Bavarian-speaking regions in Europe), St. Nikolaus is accompanied by Krampus, a beast-like creature. Legend states that Krampus punishes bad children during the Yule season, and captures particularly naughty children and carries them away to the woods. The creature has roots in Germanic folklore; however, its influence has spread far beyond German borders, in Austria, southern Bavaria, South Tyrol, northern Friuli, Hungary, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic and Croatia.
The Krampus figure stretches back to pre-Christian Alpine pagan traditions, but by the 17th century Krampus had been incorporated into Christian winter celebrations. Krampus was popular until the early part of the 20th century, even being included on holiday greeting cards (Krampuskarten) dating back to the 1800s. While he was being prohibited for a time in Austria prior to World War 2, the Krampus tradition has seen a resurgence in Bavaria, Austria, and other parts of Germany near the end of the 20th century and his popularity continues to increase to this day, now spreading around the world.
In addition to being the Eve of St. Nikolaus day, December 5 is known as Krampusnacht (Krampus Night), in which these hairy beasts appear on the streets. Traditionally young men would dress up as the Krampus during the first week of December, particularly on the evening of December 5, and roam the village frightening children with rusty chains and bells. Sometimes accompanying St. Nikolaus and sometimes on his own, Krampus visits homes and businesses throughout town. Nikolaus dispenses gifts to good kids, while Krampus supplies coal and/or the Ruten to naughty children.
A toned-down version of Krampus is a very popular part of Christkindlmarkten in urban centres like Munich and Salzburg. In these tourist-friendly and child-friendly interpretations, Krampus is more humorous than fearsome — although many of the more popular events have become quite the spectacle.
There are many names for Krampus, as well as many regional variations in portrayal and celebration. A Krampuslauf is a fun run of celebrants dressed as the wicked beast, often fueled by alcohol – it is customary to offer a Krampus schnapps. The tradition resurrects a centuries-old ancient ritual meant to disperse winter’s ghosts.
Krampus in North America
The Krampus tradition has spread to the US and Canada, and Krampus celebrations are a growing phenomenon. These include Krampuslauf Philadelphia, Krampus Lauf PDX in Portland, OR, LA Krampusfest, Baltimore Krampuslauf, Krampuslauf Hawaii, Krampus Krawl in Elgin, IL, Bloomington Krampus, and, of course, Krampuslauf Zinzinnati, just to name a few.
What is Krampuslauf Zinzinnati?
Germania has invited the fine folks from Krampuslauf Zinzinnati to bring Krampus to our festival. Krampuslauf Zinzinnati is a group formed in 2014 to bring the tradition of Krampus to the holidays in Cincinnati in a family-friendly, maker-friendly, community-building way. Several people from their organization have appeared as Krampus on Fountain Square during Cincideutsch Christkindlmarkt since 2014, taking pictures with and informing the public about the details of this eccentric bit of German holiday culture.
NOTE: They do not try to scare children — their purpose is cultural education and keeping this German tradition alive. (Most kids want their picture taken with Krampus!)
Krampus (or perhaps several Krampuses) and his handlers will be strolling through Germania Christkindlmarkt on Friday and possibly Saturday. Feel free to talk to them, take pictures with them, and let them tell you more about this centuries-old tradition.
Sankt Nikolaus, Santa Claus, and Krampus Schedule
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 18
Santa Claus – 5:15 pm to 7:30 pm
Saint Nicholas – 7:45 pm to 9:45 pm
Krampus – 5:30 pm to 8:00 pm
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 19
Santa Claus – 12:15 pm to 2:45 pm
Saint Nicholas – 3:00 pm to 6:45 pm
Santa Claus – 7:00 pm to 9:45 pm
Krampus – Various
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 20
Santa Claus – 12:15 pm to 2:30 pm
Saint Nicholas – 2:45 pm to 4:45 pm
Krampus – TBA