When I was growing up there were plenty of warning from parents, great aunts and uncles, and assorted other adults about receiving a lump of coal in my Christmas stocking as payment for a past year of bad behavior. So much for gifts as a sign of grace at Christmastide. On the other hand, perhaps we are a bit overdue on reinstituting some form of payment - punishment if you will - for the erosion of good conduct across the country. Of course, such a move should apply to all age groups but I suggest we begin with the young as they are most easily conditioned.
And the vehicle for this proposal? We don't have to create something new for this plan. Some years ago I stumbled on the perfect messenger. In fact, in many central and eastern European cultures, the visage has been around for centuries. To boot, for the last thousand years or so he has been associated with the most benevolent and generous of figures, Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas or as we know him today, Santa. So who is the other half of this duality? His name is Krampus.
|St. Nicholas and Krampus, by Arnold Nechansky, Wiener Werkstatte, 1912|
I first discovered Krampus through an interest in post cards. When I began looking at cards from central Europe, especially those printed by the magnificent Wiener Werstatte in the early decades of the 20th century, I noticed that two figures often appeared on the Christmas cards depicting a visit to a welcoming family. One was a traditional Saint Nicholas character dressed in ornate flowing robes and carrying a bag of gifts. The other was a shabbily dressed rather grotesque if not devil-like creature carrying a bundle of switches and a bag. The intention of the visit was to leave a nice gift for the good children or a lump of coal for the "behaviorally challenged." While good children enjoyed their presents, moderately bad boys and girls could expect a swat or two from the switches. The worst cases went into the bag.
Please, I'm not advocating whipping or kidnapping as a corrective for youth beyond the bounds of civilized coexistence. Rather, I'd just like a little balance for all the feet jabbed into my Economy Class back between Atlanta and anywhere, the screaming tantrums endured at finer restaurants, and the cell phone use at theaters I no longer patronize. Yes, it is time to bring on the coal.
Tonight, the eve of Saint Nicholas Day, is the Night of the Krampus. Although this night for European adults has taken on an almost Halloween-like character often fueled by alcohol, it remains a fascinating, ancient story of the dual nature of our existence. Those who understand that good does not stand without evil, just as there are no mountains without valleys, can learn more about the Krampus tradition here.