Skip

Santa has a posse
December 21, 2009 10:27 AM   Subscribe

Most American elementary school kids will tell you about who they think Santa is friends with. Mrs. Claus, Rudolph, and the elves come to mind, as well as many of the Rankin-Bass characters that have become cultural institutions. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Make space on your mantle for Zwarte Piet and Krampus decorations!

In the Netherlands, Santa is also known to ride with Black Pete (or Zwarte Piet), a helper who is apparently white-skinned, but has a black face because of soot from going up and down chimneys to deliver gifts. He has a feast in his honor on December 5th, Saint Nicholas Eve for the Dutch. Of course, there is controversy because origin in colonialist times, his blackface, often thick lips, and afro hairstyle can easily be seen as racist. He is known to be mischievous but not necessarily mean spirited, although some tellings say that he's been known to whip naughty kids with a birch branch.

Granted, that behavior may be infringing on the Austrian Krampus's territory. Recently featured on The Colbert Report, Krampus is the stick to Santa's carrot. While Santa brings toys, the Krampus will take away gifts from naughty children, and whip them with rusty chains and birch branches. With his downright demonic appearance, it's a wonder Santa lets this creature ride along in the sleigh. And be careful kids, if you don't fall asleep on Christmas Eve, the Krampus will take you to Hell.

Remarkably, neither of them were popularized by Coca Cola.

Previously
posted by mccarty.tim (46 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
And of course, the Krampus also had a prominent role in the Venture Bros Christmas Special!
posted by ErikaB at 10:30 AM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's also Belsnickle.
posted by jonp72 at 10:31 AM on December 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


Weirdly, Black Pete lives in Spain the rest of the year. I'm not making this up.
posted by josher71 at 10:38 AM on December 21, 2009


Here's a good English language website on the link between Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus. Very informative historically even for me as a Dutchman.
I hope we won't be going the sinterklaas=racism merry go round again. I think I've seen that at least 3 times on mefi.
And you're a fortnight late anyway.
posted by joost de vries at 10:41 AM on December 21, 2009


That's why he's dressed in 16th century Spanish court attire josher.
posted by joost de vries at 10:42 AM on December 21, 2009


We had to cover our sons eyes when we checked out the Krampus wikipedia page the other day. What's the deal with Piet taking kids to Spain? Why Spain (was it because of the Moors)?
posted by drezdn at 10:46 AM on December 21, 2009


Weirdly, Black Pete lives in Spain the rest of the year. I'm not making this up.

Spain used to own the Netherlands.
posted by orthogonality at 10:47 AM on December 21, 2009


Wot no Sedaris?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:48 AM on December 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


The Krampus is also the main character is artist Cameron Jamie's Kranky Klaus, for which the artist build a half-dozen monstrous costumes and then set drunken actors loose in an Austrian town to physically abuse anybody they run into, which he then documented. It's astonishing, terrifying, and frequently extremely funny.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:48 AM on December 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


From the Wikipedia article on the Krampus:

In some rural areas the tradition also includes birching by Krampus, especially of young girls.

Yeah, right.

I'm not even sure where to go with this. "It's not what it looks like officer! I am simply practicing an old Austrian holiday tradition!"
posted by marxchivist at 10:59 AM on December 21, 2009


They even got pictures. St. Nick is a creepy old bastard.
posted by marxchivist at 11:00 AM on December 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


In the Netherlands, Santa is also known to ride with Black Pete (or Zwarte Piet), a helper who is apparently white-skinned, but has a black face because of soot from going up and down chimneys to deliver gifts.

I don't know where you get this. Your Wikipedia link is pretty clear that he is black, and that's the tradition.
posted by dgaicun at 11:00 AM on December 21, 2009


Remarkably, neither of them were popularized by Coca Cola.

While I agree that Coca-Cola has done some bad things...this ain't one of them. Dear Europe: thanks for Santa and all, he's fun, but we won't be needing your sadistic, child-torturing monster traditions, kthx.
posted by emjaybee at 11:02 AM on December 21, 2009


I love Metafilter! The last day of class before Winter Break, I give the kids a break from English, and give a lecture about the mythology of Santa.

The Krampus is easily their favorite part. Zwarte Piet, not so much.

And as I understood it, Zwarte Piet has his origins in part of the St. Nicholas of Myra mythos, in that he was an Ethopian slave Nicholas had freed. I thought the chimney/soot thing was a more (relatively) recent retcon to take care of the more racist elements of the character.

(Wikipedia'd information, so if I'm wrong, I'll accept my Krampusing like a man!)
posted by mdaugherty82 at 11:03 AM on December 21, 2009


I was kicking around doing a Krampus post but instead will just make do with this cute little fellow.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:04 AM on December 21, 2009


Not related to Santa per see, but given its weirdness it seems fitting to also point to the Catalan nativity addon, El Caganer.
posted by AwkwardPause at 11:05 AM on December 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


You know, I've always wondered about the Island of Misfit Toys.

They're rejected toys -- spotted elephant, bird that swims instead of flies, train with square wheels on the caboose -- but how the hell did this happen in the first place? Who was responsible? The elves made toys under oppressive supervision. Their work was micromanaged by the homophobic (okay, dentistphobic) tyrant who barked at them constantly to pick up the pace and work!work!work! He'd occasionally stop yelling at them as a group for a minute to single one out for special humiliation -- most notably, the elf who dared to be "different." How did square wheels get made in such an environment? It makes no sense.

Why does Santa employ an elf-overseer who gives such shitty QA that an entire island is necessary to sequester his mistakes? Why was this jerk not fired when the first useless toy rolled off the line? It's fishy, that's all.

And how did the elves animate the swimming bird? I'm telling you, the whole outfit up there makes me a tad nervous.

I mean, I think that Herbie not liking to make toys is a much less serious offense than some halfwit elf crafting square wheels.
posted by heyho at 11:05 AM on December 21, 2009 [6 favorites]


And of course, the Krampus also had a prominent role in the Venture Bros Christmas Special!

Best. Christmas Special. EVAR.
posted by GuyZero at 11:07 AM on December 21, 2009


I just learned about Krampus the other day, and discovered that a bunch of my other friends just did as well, independently. And now there's this post. Weird. He's part of the zeitgeist. I think this means that American culture is ready to adopt Krampus! Other cultures have Bizarro Santas, and now we need one. (ME AM NOT DEMANDING MILK AND COOKIES.)

The Whipping Father from Eastern France is another good evil Santa doppelganger. He drugs children, cuts them up, and stores the pieces in barrels.
posted by painquale at 11:14 AM on December 21, 2009


Dear Europe: thanks for Santa and all, he's fun, but we won't be needing your sadistic, child-torturing monster traditions, kthx.
These things hail from the 19th century when child rearing apparently entailed a bit of the stick as well as the carrot.
Dear US: your opinion is worth as much as the knowledge that it's founded upon.
posted by joost de vries at 11:15 AM on December 21, 2009 [5 favorites]


Why does Santa employ an elf-overseer who gives such shitty QA that an entire island is necessary to sequester his mistakes? Why was this jerk not fired when the first useless toy rolled off the line? It's fishy, that's all.

Because it turns out they weren't mistakes after all, but special toys made for just the right child, who hadn't found their child yet.

So, Santa's order fulfillment and delivery system is failing its six sigma, and since he handles that entirely himself, I can see how mistakes might creep in.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:23 AM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Not a Santa sidekick, but a version of the man himself, Basque Santa aka Olentzero is equally as terrifying as Krampus. Apparantly he throws sickles down chimneys and slits kids´throats who don´t go to bed on time.

This is a little unrelated, but the hilarious Spanish (well, Catalan) Christmas tradition of tió de nadal is a log that poops presents and can´t be missed.
posted by maca at 11:26 AM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


For anyone interested in further reading may I suggest Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicholas, Spanning 50,000 Years. Recommended in a forner Zwarte Piet post last year or the year before. Happy Solstice, and remember Ru Klas.
posted by adamvasco at 11:34 AM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Don't forget about Knecht Ruprecht (Servant Rupert) in Germany. He usually carries a bag and a bunch of willow sticks. He serves Santa and does his bidding but he's also fearsome and punishes bad children with those sticks after questioning their parents about their kids behavior.
Historically he's probably derived from some pre-christian deity or spirit (some say possibly even a representation of Wodan) that was associated with old practices and rituals tied to the winter solstice. Many of these traditions were actively integrated or at least allowed to be integrated with christian celebrations and rituals by the catholic church.
Knecht Ruprecht appears to have first been mentioned in writing in some 17th century text. From what I've read so far it seems that he was initially a dark and fearsome companion or helper to the Christkind (christ child, baby jeebus) during christmas celebrations and then morphed into Santa's thuggish helper when that tradition took off fairly recently.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:35 AM on December 21, 2009


In Germany there's a similar figure usually accompanying Santa: Knecht Ruprecht*. Most often he is depicted as a monk-like figure, carrying a bundle of rods and having a wild, bushy black hair and beard. Not childhood-trauma-inducing in the least.

*Which is also the name of the Simpson's dog in the German dub.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 11:36 AM on December 21, 2009


So, Santa's order fulfillment and delivery system is failing its six sigma, and since he handles that entirely himself, I can see how mistakes might creep in.

I read where his error rate is one in six million, earning him Black Belt status. This rivals the tiffin wallas.
posted by fixedgear at 11:45 AM on December 21, 2009


There's a festival called Krampuslauf in Austria, where tons of meticulously-costumed Krampussen parade about in a cavalcade of monstrosity... I think there was a MeFi post about that specifically a while back, but I haven't been able to track it down.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:49 AM on December 21, 2009


I didn't want to mention this in the body of the thread, but I just thought I'd get this off my chest: I would totally watch The Christmas Sweater (ONLY $20 FOR THE LITTLE GUY) if it involved naughty young Glenn Beck getting tortured by the Krampus. Ideally, Santa Claus would then get actionable information from Beck, and would then go home and explain to Mrs. Claus that while it's distasteful to torture, the Krumpus works, and that it's what he needs to truly know that the naughty are punnished.
posted by mccarty.tim at 11:49 AM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Weirdly, Black Pete lives in Spain the rest of the year.

From Het Wilhelmus:

"William of Nassau,
am I of German descent.
True to the fatherland,
I'll be until death.
A prince of Orange,
am I free and brave.
The king of Spain,
I have always honoured."

posted by jgirl at 12:11 PM on December 21, 2009


From the Tió de Nadal wiki (linked to above):

Here is a song of the "caga tió":
caga tió,
caga torró,
avellanes i mató,
si no cagues bé
et daré un cop de bastó.
caga tió!"


poop log,
poop turrón,
hazelnuts and cottage cheese,
if you don't poop well,
I'll hit you with a stick,
poop log!

An alternate version goes something like this:

caga tió,
tió de Nadal,
no caguis arengades,
que són massa salades
caga torrons
que són més bons!"


poop log,
log of Christmas,
don't poop herrings,
which are too salty,
poop turrón
which is much better!

posted by oinopaponton at 12:23 PM on December 21, 2009 [4 favorites]


Zwarte Piet...is apparently white-skinned, but has a black face because of soot from going up and down chimneys to deliver gifts

That's a relatively recent retcon.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:44 PM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


another great book explaining the development of Santa Claus and other Christmas traditions in the US: The Battle for Christmas, by Stephen Nissenbaum.
posted by Primofex at 12:56 PM on December 21, 2009


Sinterklaas is also close friends with Spiderman.
posted by monospace at 12:59 PM on December 21, 2009


I prefer That Guy instead. [Don't say his name!]
posted by Smart Dalek at 1:19 PM on December 21, 2009


Even better than reading Sedaris, is listening to him.
posted by monospace at 1:50 PM on December 21, 2009


I was just on a long car drive wondering idly about Mrs. Claus. How did she meet Santa Claus? Were they both young? Was she a counter-jumping elf? Or was she a co-worker in the toy distribution business? I was creeped out by most stop-motion as a kid, so I missed the explanation offered by Rankin-Bass.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:16 PM on December 21, 2009


The Perchten are also closely related to the Krampus. At least in recent times, the two have become intertwined, and many of the monsters you'll see at the Krampus fest, you'll also see at a Perchtenlauf (self link).

These events are lots of raucous fun, with the police and fire departments out in force to make sure that the festivities don't get out of hand.
posted by syzygy at 2:26 PM on December 21, 2009


Interestingly, the Demonic origin of Zwarte Piet doesn't seem to have much mindshare in the Netherlands.
posted by HFSH at 3:12 PM on December 21, 2009


When work sent me to Austria a few years ago the thing I decided I HAD to bring back were a pair of big chocolate St. Nicholas and Krampus wrapped in heavy foil. I am now terribly sad that I managed to figure out what was wrong and get sent back home when I did, thereby missing a holiday where demonic characters and beating people with sticks is part of the fun.

As a data point in the cosmic battle between good an evil, St. Nickolas made it through crosier intact. Krampus looked like he'd been beaten with that stick of his.

Also, the difference between US and German airport security is that when the X-ray guy in Munich was perplexed by the metal jacketed amorphous organic material in my carry on, it took the lady opening bags that needed checking a 0.01 second glance to authoritatively declared "Ist schokolade."

posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:42 PM on December 21, 2009


He has a feast in his honor on December 5th, Saint Nicholas Eve for the Dutch.

December 6th is the Feast Day for St. Nicholas for all Catholics, I'm pretty sure. My family has always celebrated it in addition to Christmas, because my mother is of Czech ancestry and her family always did.
posted by DecemberBoy at 5:48 PM on December 21, 2009


Don't forget La Befana, the Italian Christmas witch.

Christmas witches are cool.
posted by Pallas Athena at 8:29 PM on December 21, 2009


Decemberboy, the Dutch childrens festivity of Sinterklaas Eve is distinct from the religious day for Saint Nicholas on the church calendar. The celebration of Sinterklaas persisted popularly in spite of 'popish' practices being illegal for quite a while after the reformation.
posted by joost de vries at 10:42 PM on December 21, 2009


Spain used to own the Netherlands.

Yes. If you ever visit my birth town of Leiden in the Netherlands, do so on October 2nd and 3rd. The whole town celebrates the end of the Siege by Spain in 1574. It's a great party!
posted by DreamerFi at 1:29 AM on December 22, 2009


>
Insert the meme people want a moratorium of here.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:10 AM on December 22, 2009


And, apparently, Donald Duck (Kalle Anka) is a big deal on Christmas Eve in Sweden.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:36 AM on December 22, 2009


I should, uh, maybe look at the front page every so often.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:02 PM on December 22, 2009


« Older My pen is mightier than your pen!   |   The Kingpin Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post