• Dan Osbaldeston

Krampusnacht! When subcontracting goes bad...

Updated: Dec 6, 2020

It is well established that Father Christmas keeps two lists, but did you know that in some parts of the world Father Christmas has subcontractors to help sort the Nice from the Naughty?

Today is Krampusnacht in some parts of Europe, when the terrifying half-goat half-demon Krampus roams the streets looking for children who have been naughty. Probably pagan in origin (as so many of our Christmas traditions are, of course), Krampus carries a whip or bundle of birch twigs to beat badly behaved children and, for the especially wicked, a sack or a basket in which to stuff them and cart them away. It’s a bit worse than a lump of coal in a stocking, isn’t it?

In the Netherlands and some other countries, Father Christmas is assisted by Zwarte Piet or Black Peter, a black or sooty faced man who eavesdrops at the chimney and reports back as to the good or bad behaviour of the people living in the house below. There is increasing rejection of the character as a racist stereotype, but there are also people who say he is part of their cultural heritage and that there’s nothing wrong with a servant in blackface. (I can guess which list those people will be on). Zwarte Piet first appeared in a book published in the 1850’s, so it’s probably time for him to find a new role in the modern world or perhaps to just retire.

And then there’s Iceland! Oh, Iceland… You’ve got the ogress Grýla who cooks naughty children into a stew, her rampaging sons the Yule Lads who cause terrible mischief, and you’ve got their pet the Yule Cat who eats children who don’t have new clothes. Is everything okay, Iceland? Do you need to talk?

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