In a few parts of the world, our bearded fellow has another side…
By JASMINE EDGE: LITERATURE Columnist
Many people have heard the famous story of Santa Claus coming down the chimney of houses across the world, and leaving presents.
However, what a lot of people don’t know is that Santa isn’t the only person that could be creeping round your house at night. The origin story of Santa is an interesting one, and is unfamiliar to many who’ve come to love the jolly fellow people know today.
Santa Claus as we see him nowadays is only the end result of a long story that has been passed on, added to and retold countless times. It started with the birth of a Greek priest, named Saint Nicholas, in 270AD. Nicholas was born into a wealthy family, but unfortunately his parents died during an epidemic when he was young. With the wealth he inherited he helped the unfortunate, and two stories are why he became known for his kindness and generosity, later gaining the recognition for being the patron of children. The more famous tales of the two is when the priest saved three sisters from prostitution; he provided their father with three bags of gold intended as a dowry for each of them. Each was delivered on a separate occasion, and appeared in a sock or boot that had been left to dry by the fire. This is where the tradition of hanging a stocking on the fire came from.
Stories about his generosity and kindness lived on after his passing in 343AD. December 6th, the day he died, was then marked on the calendar as a day of giving gifts to commend the work he did when he was alive. This day is what’s now known as Christmas Day.
Later, during the Protestant reformation the shift from Catholicism to Protestantism in parts of Europe meant the worship of saints was frowned upon; many people were forced to renounce them because of pressures from society. As a result, this gift giving day was moved to December 25th in order to associate it with the birth of Jesus. In different cultures it was a common belief that Christ was accompanied by a helper; it was usually a frightening character who was said to punish naughty children, while Christ gave presents to the good ones.
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For there to be an equilibrium the bad can never be far behind the good, and vice versa.
In central Europe Germanic regions believed, and still believe, in the legend of Krampus who is half goat, half demon. It is unknown exactly when the legend of Krampus started, but the tales of him are unforgettable. In Norse mythology he is said to be the son of Hel, the ruler of the underworld. He’s described as carrying sticks with him to beat naughty children, and carrying a sack to put them, in order to take them back to the underworld to torture or eat.
Krampus has become increasingly popular since the 20th century and sparked interest in Americans, despite efforts of the Catholic church to ban celebration of Krampus because of its association with the devil. The legend of Krampus has stuck. In countries such as Germany, Austria and Hungary Krampus runs are traditional on the eve of December 5th, when it’s believed Krampus accompanies St Nicholas who gives gifts to nice children and he who punishes the naughty ones. Adults usually dress up as the terrifying demon, and go around the streets scaring adults and children alike.
Whilst Krampus has taken the spotlight, there are other menacing characters who are believed to accompany St Nicholas or Santa Claus as we know him today. France has Hans Trapp and in other Germanic regions there’s Belsnickle. So, wherever it is you are spending Christmas, you might want to check you’ve been on your best behaviour this year.