It’s the 6th of December (well at least for another 20 minutes so I better get this post up soon), which means that in various European countries it’s all about Saint Nicholas celebrations! In Holland the 5th of December is the big night for Saint Nicholas celebrations, and I put my shoe out at the fireplace last night to find a pressie in it in the morning! It goes to show that even though I’ve moved to London, Saint Nicholas (or Sinterklaas in Dutch) hasn’t forgotten about me, although he must have forgotten some of the things I’ve got up to this year or he would’ve given me a bag of Brussels sprouts instead like he once did when I was 5 after having been very naughty. I cried my eyes out.
In other countries like Germany, Poland and Austria it’s the 6th. While in Holland Saint Nicholas’ companion is Zwarte Piet, in some Eastern and Central European countries it’s a devil-like figure called the Krampus (which means ‘claw’ in Old German). The Krampus originated from Germanic folklore, and managed to survive despite Catholic campaigns to stamp him out. When that didn’t work, they paired him up with Saint Nicholas, gave him a more devil-like appearance as part of a Christian make-over, with chains for accessories to show that the Church had managed to bind him and that he was now a faithful servant of Saint Nicholas. Nothing like a bit of propaganda.
I love the old Krampus greeting cards people used to send out this time of year, although I don’t remember having ever seen them in Holland. Most of them have German greetings (the Krampus is massively popular in Austria), and there’s something comically grotesque about how the Krampus goes after innocent little children and buxom women to punish or scare them. And while it would be easy to think of saints and devils as natural adversaries, the postcards here show that Saint Nick and Old Nick are in fact the best of friends, working side by side to make sure everyone gets their just desserts – I can just imagine them high-fiving each other afterwards and having a good old laugh at the expense of man. And so they should.
Fijne Sinterklaas! / Happy Saint Nicholas!
For my previous post on Krampus festivities, click here.