Remember how Germans are experts at Christmas? Well, last week I learned that German Christmases have both a light side and a very dark side. The light side is St. Nikolaus, who comes to visit good children on his birthday, December 6th. If these good girls and boys polish one of their boots and set it outside their front door, St. Nikolaus will fill these boots with candy and presents, and everyone laughs and is merry.
BUT IF YOU’VE BEEN NAUGHTY THIS PAST YEAR, BEWARE! The Krampus will come for you.
The Krampus is St. Nikolaus’s counterpart, and he brings coal and switches to all the bad children in the land. He is older than Jesus, and his name comes from the Old German word “Krampen,” which means CLAWS. His eyes are fiery embers, his body is a mass of dark fur, and both his horns and his tongue are longer than his hairy legs. On Krampus Night (December 5th), he visits all the evil children of Bavaria to terrify them into repentance. The most absolutely evil children he slings into a bag on his back and steals away to his lair just north of hell, where they are driven insane by his ever-jingling chains and bells. The complete lack of chocolate there doesn’t help matters either.
Krampus Night is terrifying enough, but in Munich they take the Krampus a step further by holding an annual Krampus Run in the Marienplatz. So all of the joy and merriment that flows freely up and down the streets of Munich’s main Christmas market gets abruptly stopped for an afternoon so that terror can reign in the land.
Hundreds of Krampusse come crawling out of their hellish lairs to romp in a malevolent procession of cowbell clangs and devil drums. They growl and roar and burp at you, and if you’re really lucky, they’ll even hit your ankles with their whips and tree-branch switches. One of them even pulled the hat off my head.
The best part of the Krampus Run is that several St. Nikolauses also partake in the festivities. Apparently Nikolaus and Krampus are BFFs forever, so they like to tag-team the parade of terror to ensure maximum confusion and delight. Several of the Nikolauses are even accompanied by angel girls who hand out candy in a vain attempt to calm the distraught and screaming children that line the streets.
I personally only screamed six times.