For visitors looking out of their shuttle’s window on early December ski transfers, Geneva’s streets may reveal an old Alpine tradition: Krampus, the Christmas devil, is afoot. Naughty children should beware of Krampus – according to legend he may drag them down to Hell for their misbehaviour.
St. Nicholas’ Sinister Companion
The tradition of St. Nicholas – otherwise known as Father Christmas or Santa Claus – delivering presents to boys and girls who have been good throughout the year, is widespread across the continent and beyond, in the regions colonised by European countries. But few places speak of St. Nicholas’ sinister companion, Krampus. While St. Nicholas hands out the presents, Krampus punishes the bad children. This often involved throwing them in the basket on his back and carrying them down to the fiery pits of Hell. This could be a bit of a scary tale for some kids newly arrived in the region, or those heading out to the country for a week or two-week stay on their ski transfers. Geneva, and many other parts of the Alps believe in the traditions and legends of Krampus, so if you visit at Christmas, be prepared fro some awkward questions!
A hideous long tongue
Depictions of Krampus are hardly pleasant. The demonic figure is typically portrayed with black fur covering his entire body. His face combines features of human and beast – most hideous is his long, pink tongue, which often extends hungrily towards small children. He might be naked or clothed, but he almost always carries a basket on his back – a ready vehicle for transporting naughty children to Hell.
Krampus in the Streets
Watch out, for if you and your family are on early December ski transfers, Geneva’s streets may be home to Krampus. If they know the tale, if the shuttle lingers too long at a light, any naughty children may grow fearful. It is unlikely, however, that they are in danger of going to Hell. A tradition has developed in the countries that believe in Krampus – especially Austria, Hungary, Germany and Switzerland – for young men to dress as Krampus in the first two weeks of December, particularly on the 5th. This takes place in both major centres, like Geneva, and remote rural communities; many young people in the latter compete in Krampus events.
The costumes are made with considerable effort by the young men. They typically consist of handcrafted wooden masks (Larve), sheep’s skin and horns. Once attired, they roam the streets, frightening children with rusty chains and bells. In some places, usually rural, this extends to whipping people with birch rods. While a lot of people on their ski transfers, Geneva-bound or outgoing, find this tradition peculiar, it’s just a regular, harmless December tradition in these countries.
And Krampus is not alone: similar traditions exist, giving St. Nicholas a companion who deals with the bad children, so it is not just children on ski transfers, Geneva who need to watch out. In France, Le Père Fouettard (French for ‘The Whipping Father’) dispenses lumps of coal or floggings – or both! – to the naughty children of France. Meanwhile, the Belsnickel of south-western Germany is a more benign version of Krampus. He is merely a man dressed like Krampus who leaves coal or switches in naughty children’s stockings. He is even associated with positive tales, like that of giving a poor man gold to pay the dowries of his three daughters.