Alto Adige Folklore: San Nicola and the Krampus

 Krampus - Photo © Luciana Coletti -*Elle*
Krampus – Photo © Luciana Coletti -*Elle*

San Nicola, saint bishop protector of the children, is represented with a long cape, the white beard, the hat and the mittens, and accompanied by two moors and several devils.

In the morning there is a procession with the statue of the Saint while the afternoon is entirely dedicated to the children.

San Nicola will ask every child if he or she did behave during the past year and will give them candies and presents.

Krampus - Photo © Luciana Coletti -*Elle*
Krampus – Photo © Luciana Coletti -*Elle*

The legend says that San Nicola, to feed the children of a town, loaded a ship with grain, fruits and vegetables, and then sailed to the city.

Once he arrived there he knocked to the doors of the houses where poor children were living leaving the food as a present.

Since that time san Nicola returns every year on the Earth to leave a present to the children.

Krampus - Photo © Luciana Coletti -*Elle*
Krampus – Photo © Luciana Coletti -*Elle*

In some of the Ruprecht traditions the children would be summoned to the door to perform tricks, such as a dance or singing a song to impress upon Santa and Ruprecht that they were indeed good children.

Those who performed badly would be beaten soundly by Servant Ruprecht, and those who performed well were given a gift or some treats.

Those who performed badly enough or had committed other misdeeds throughout the year were put into Ruprecht’s sack and taken away, variously to Ruprecht’s home in the Black Forest, or to be tossed into a river.

Where there are Krampuses there is fire Photo © Luciana Coletti -*Elle*
Where there are Krampuses there is fire Photo © Luciana Coletti -*Elle*

In other versions the children must be asleep, and would either awake to find their shoes filled with sweets, coal, or in some cases a stick.

Over time, other customs developed: parents giving kids who misbehaved a stick instead of treats and saying that it was a warning from Nikolaus that “unless you improve by Christmas day, Nikolaus’ black servant Ruprecht will come and beat you with the stick and you won’t get any Christmas gifts.” Often there would be variations idiosyncratic to individual families.