The American Santa Claus is, as nearly everything in America, actually based something European, namely on the historical figure of St. Nikolaus, who lived in the 3rd century A.D. and gave his money to the poor people.
According to tradition, you have to put your boot out on your window sill on the night of the 5th and, if you've been a good kid all year, St. Nikolaus will fill it with clementines, nuts and candy (and sometimes a small gift). The naughty children, however, will only get ash and coal (see, like Santa Claus).
As we are talking Austrian traditions here, there must be, of course, a satanical counterpart to the nice St. Nikolaus, and it is called The Krampus. I know, you will think of the horror movie, which I have never seen because I wouldn't be able to sleep for a month, but the actual Krampus actually stems from pre-Christian Alpine traditions.
On the fifth of December, it is tradition in schools and kindergartens that St. Nikolaus visits the children and gives them chocolate, whereas the Krampus accompanies him to hit the naughty children with a rod (most schools have dropped the Krampus part, for obvious reasons; however, my dad told me how when he was in a Catholic boarding school for boys, the Krampuses actually really hit the children hard and mercilessly).
The Krampus looks rather off-putting (to sugar-coat it) and has a distinct similarity to the Percht (see previous post), even though they are completely different. He usually is dressed in red and black or white and has a terrible mask with glowing eyes, a long tongue and horns (in Austria, we like our children traumatised).
In Austria, on the fifth, you shouldn't leave your house when you don't want your legs smacked with a rod because Krampuses are running around, frightening people - even though, the tradition of Krampuses has considerably diminished and they don't play a massively big part anymore these days.
In my family, we have always celebrated on the sixth. We got our St. Nikolaus bags in the morning and then, at school, we would travel to St. Nick's times with our school-owned time machine (which were actually just tables with a large cloth spread over it and my mum using an African drum-like instrument to set the mood.
Arrived in St. Nikolaus's land, we met the real St. Nick (which was my dad), and he told us the story of St. Nikolaus and distributed sweets and when we went home, each child found a small St. Nikolaus in one of their boots.
I really like St. Nikolaus and pity the countries which do not celebrate it because it means more sweets and gifts and excitement and is a great milestone on the long way to Christmas.
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