Krampus and other companions of Saint Nicholas

The Companions of Saint Nicholas are a group of closely related figures who accompany St. Nicholas in many European traditions. The tradition is particularly strong amongst the Germanic peoples.

Austrian (and Bavarian, Croatian, Slovenian, Hungarian) kids are looking forward to being visited on the 5th of December by red and black looking little devils called “Krampus” who are bringing presents together with Saint Nicholas.

Some of the companions take on more monstrous forms, namely in Austria, Bavaria, or Hungary. Krampus and Klaubauf are variously depicted as horned, shaggy, bestial, or demonic. In many depictions the Krampus looks like popular images of the Devil, complete with red skin, cloven hooves, and short horns. They whip everyone that comes on their path.

The Krampus figure is probably related to the more recognized companion of Saint Nicholas, namely Knecht Ruprecht, which translates as Farmhand Ruprecht or Servant Ruprecht. Other companions include Klaubauf (Bavaria), Bartel (Styria), Pelzebock, Pelznickel, Belzeniggl, Belsnickel (Pennsylvania), Schmutzli (Switzerland), Rumpelklas, Bellzebub, Hans Muff, Drapp or Buzebergt (Augsburg), Hanstrapp (Alsace, East of France) and Le Père Fouettard (Northern France). In the Czech Republic, St. Nicholas or Svatý Mikuláš is accompanied by the Čert (Devil) and Anděl (Angel). These servants are often associated with, but are distinct from Saint Nicholas’ helpers in the Netherlands and Flanders (called Zwarte Piet, meaning Black Pete(r) in English).

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