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Christmas in America is warm and fuzzy, stuffed with Santa, reindeer, and helpful elves. We get little exposure to the more sinister old-world European characters, a host of demonic bogeymen that have been adopted into the Christian tradition over time.
Among the most popular is Krampus, a goat-like creature who snatches up children to feast upon. He has come in and out of popularity with Europeans since the 17th century, mostly due his turbulent relationship with both church and state. Now, on the eve of the feast of Saint Nicholas, fun-seekers wear masks, horns, and furry suits and go about the business of scaring and amusing children.
Zwarte Piet is next on our list. His persona has softened over time from hellish to a merely mischievous servant of Saint Nick. However, his face remains the center of much controversy, as those playing the role paint their faces black.
Lesser-known companions came along much later and appear with less consistency. Père Fouettard is an eastern French character with a scraggly beard known for whipping children or carrying them away in a basket. Knecht Ruprecht, or “Farm hand Rupert,” is the German rendition of the coal-giving grinch. He too has a long beard and a bad attitude.
It’s European stories like these that should make those naughty American kids who end up with just a lump of coal in their stocking this season thankful.