December 09, 2003

He Knows When You've Been Bad

One of my coworkers (who had just returned from living in Germany for 4 years) has just introduced me to Hans Muff. Hans Muff isn't a person, but turns out to be the negative reinforcement that balances out Santa Claus. If you're a bad kid, you aren't just threatened with the prospect of a Christmas without gifts, you also get a beating, and possibly get carried off in a sack by Hans Muff.

The concept of a scary alter ego to Santa made a certain type of sense to me, especially since it comes from the land that gave us the Brothers Grimm, and it certainly doesn't seem as strange as having St. Nick being accompanied by 6 to 8 black men. [At some point after I linked to this article, Esquire took it down, and added it to Esquire Premium, the pay section of their website, sorry.]

From what I have been able to find out, Hans Muff aka Krampus aka Knecht Ruprecht aka Pelzebock is an alter ego or assistant of St. Nicholas. Krampus comes to town on December 5th, the day before St. Nicholas Day, and punishes all of the bad children by beating them with switches. Krampus seems to have varied alot over the centuries but usually appears as a fur covered man with devil horns. In any case, there still seems to be alot of interpretations of Krampus, depending on which area of Germany or Austria you're in. I noticed that just like every other holiday celebration, it seems like people also use Krumpas an excuse to get stinking drunk.

Posted by Drew at December 9, 2003 09:18 PM

When I was lived in Holland (very long ago) there was Black Peter:

It is said that during the Middle Ages, the people in Holland referred to the devil as Black Peter (Dutch: Zwarte Piet). He was put in chains by Saint Nicholas, and made his slave. On Saint Nicholas' Eve (December 4), the saint had Black Peter drop candy and gifts down chimneys into the shoes children had placed there.

Lots of floks in Holland now protest the use of BP because of obvious racial overtones.

Racial issues aside, I am all in favor of fear as a motivating factor. I am not a fan however of eating things out of my shoes.

Posted by: eric at December 10, 2003 11:16 AM