Who is Saint Nicholas?
Saint Nicholas was a Bishop who lived in the 4th century in modern-day Turkey, in a city called Myra. He was very rich and generous, known for secret gift-giving. He used to put coins into the shoes of people who left them out for him. This may be the reason why the tradition of leaving gifts and sweets into children’s shoes on the 6th December is still alive now.
In common culture, Saint Nicholas is a man who rides a white horse, holds a golden staff in his hand and dresses in bishop’s attire.
Who is Krampus?
The name “Krampus” derives from krampen, meaning claw. Krampus is the son of Hel in Norse mythology (the goddess of the realm of the dead).
Krampus is the ugly, fear-inducing sidekick of Saint Nicholas. Together, they visit houses and businesses on the eve of the 6th December. Whilst Nicholas leaves gifts for the good children, Krampus takes care of the bad ones. He chases bad children and whips them with bundles of birch twigs (called Ruten).
Krampus is usually pictured as a hairy demon-like figure, with large teeth, horns, with a chain wrapped around him and a bell hanging from it. He also carries with him Ruten to whip people.
Saint Nicholas is behind the story of the widely known Santa Claus. Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam brought the tradition of celebrating him with them to the new world. In the Netherlands the 6th December is a more important holiday than Christmas.
In Austria, however, the tradition says that baby Jesus brings the presents on Christmas day, not Santa Claus. On 6th December many Austrians still celebrate Saint Nicholas. As mentioned before, children leave their shoes outside their door. If they were well-behaved, they receive presents, if they were badly-behaved, they would find the Ruten inside their shoes. On the 5th, Krampus is celebrated.
The holiday today
In Graz (and many other cities and towns in Austria) there is a yearly Krampus parade going through the city centre, usually the weekend after the opening of the Christmas Markets. This year it will take place on the 2nd December 2018. At the parade, dozens of Krampus groups from all over Styria meet and show off their perfectly detailled and extremely scary masks and costumes. The Krampuses may look terrifying, but they are usually gentle with children and may come up to them and do some tricks (like stealing their hats or getting up very close to them). If you are an adult or a teenager, you should look after your legs and beware of whipping! Some of the groups also bring their friendly Sankt Nikolaus for the good kids.
Some smaller towns still have the original tradition, in which people dressed as Krampus run around the town during the night between the 5th and 6th December to scare and play tricks on people.
At the end of November, supermarkets and shops already stock-up on Nicholas and Krampus-themed chocolates and sweets. Buy some for your friends and family, give a chocolate Nicholas to those who were good and a chocolate Krampus to those who were bad (or even just to troll them 😉 ).