folklore, religion
comment 1

Santa’s Sinister Servants

In the United States and much of the Western World the song Santa Claus is Coming to Town is sung or played on today’s mp3 players, radios, and cd players. All done in anticipation of the arrival Father Christmas. The lyrics are reminiscent of a being that is far more than a simple fat man in red bearing presents.

You better watch out, You better not cry,
Better not pout,
I’m telling you why:
Santa Claus is coming to town.
He’s making a list,
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out
Who’s naughty and nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town.
He sees you when you’re sleeping.
He knows when you’re awake.
He knows if you’ve been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake!
Oh, you better watch out!
You better not cry.
Better not pout,
I’m telling you why:
Santa Claus is coming to town.
Santa Claus is coming to town!

The stories here in the United States of Saint Nicholas knowing if you are bad or good are little more than idle threats to get children to behave for a reward system. However, over in Eastern Europe this is not the case. The lyrics to Santa Claus is Coming Town, have quite the history. You may even learn why little kids need to behave. The far more sinister side of Christmas comes not in the threat of coal in the stocking but as a demon to whisk away the naughty children.

The Krampus (from Austria, Bavaria, Switzerland and Hungary) is a dark haired beast bound in shackles. The shackles implying he is under the control of Saint Nicholas and cannot harm the good boys and girls. Krampus is portrayed with large horns and a red tongue and sometimes a red face or forked tail like a devil. He carries with him a switch (bundle of twigs) and a basket upon his back. The Krampus follows Saint Nicholas doling out beatings to the naughty children and kidnapping the even more misbehaved kids in his basket to eat them later.


However, if the children have been good Krampus will leave candy or small toys in their shoes. Depending upon the tale it is also juxtapozed with the Krampus replacing the treats Saint Nick leaves with Coal.

In some parts of Austria the legend of the Krampus is still celebrated. Every year on December 5th the young men will dress up as the Krampus wearing wooden masks, animal furs, and carrying chains, whips, baskets, and swatches. They will run about Austria scaring children and goading them into being good boys and girls. Amazing craftsmanship is placed into these suits making Halloween costumes pale in comparison.


In the past there were news reports of young men actually carrying off a child and distributing beating him /her then throughout the rest of the day they terrorized kids by banging sticks on windows, and cars wherever they saw them.

The Krampus is not the only fiend to accompany Saint Nicholas on his Christmas journeys. In Switzerland there is Schmutzli, a soot faced bearded man dressed in black. Who like the Krampus carries a swatch and basket to punish children. In France there is Père Fouettard a butcher who accompanies Saint Nick and serves a similar purpose to Krampus and Schmutzli. In Germany you have Ruprecht who like Schmutzli leaves treats for good kids and beatings for the bad.

One thing that was consistent with Saint Nicholas and his dark follower was they were often accompanied by angels who carried a book of those naughty and nice. The angels protected the children from the dark follower and gave Saint Nicholas his knowledge of those who were good and bad.

I have no doubt though that if the Krampus were a world wide Christian tale celebrated on the Eve of Saint Nicolas then not only would we have many more kids scarred for life; but perhaps just maybe we’d have a few less spoiled brats.


1 Comment

  1. Thanks for a good read about our rotund and jolly friend.

    Santa’s persona was pulled together from various folk figures of pagan descent, and his physical appearance generally recalls the heavy handed helpers rather than the saint, but let us not overlook the touch of the Lord of all Evil himself. Though St. Nicholas and Old Nick have long since parted company, ‘Ho ho ho’ still echoes down chimneys. It was the laugh of the devil in medieval folklore, remembered in Old English plays:

    Ho, ho, ho! the devil, the devil! A-comes, a-comes, a-comes upon me…

    Source: A Select Collection of Old English Plays, vol. 6, Robert Dodsley (available from the project Gutenberg ebook,

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