Saturday, December 8, 2012

Pretty Pictures

Some AMAZING photography from Wolfgang Böhm in Austria.

Visit his website for more of these breath-taking photos from Krampusnacht!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Ornaments for the Tree

The other day I was searching for some suitable ornaments to decorate the Christmas tree we have here at the Tea Room.  I ran across these lovely pieces from ARyer Studio.

I may have to make an order!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Rise, Fall, Rise, Fall and slow Rise of Krampus

Happy Krampusnacht!  

The morning rush is over and I have my cup of tea.  Time to finish up the history of Krampus as I know it.  

Krampus’ rise and fall in popularity is almost as difficult to trace as his origin.  We know there were celebrations of St. Nicholas and his sidekick Krampus until the 1600’s.  At that time the Puritans made it illegal to mention St. Nicolas' name. People were not allowed to exchange gifts, light a candle, or sing carols.  The Lutheran Church, instead, presented a ‘Christ Child’ figure in place of the Catholic St. Nicholas.   St. Nicholas and Krampus went underground.

Then in the 1800’s, Krampus and St. Nicholas began to reemerge.

In 1804, The New York Historical Society was founded with St. Nicolas as its patron saint. Its members engaged in the Dutch practice of gift-giving at Christmas.

 Saint Nicholas or "Sancte Claus," in a woodcut by Alexander Anderson done for the New York Historical Society.

In 1810, the Brothers Grimm began publishing stories of Germanic folktales, marking a resurgence in Germanic pagan folklore.

Also during this time, Great Britain resorted to importing non-Catholic monarchs from Germany.  Hence, more German customs were starting to appear in Anglo Christmas celebrations.  German practices became even more prominent following Queen Victoria’s marriage to the 
German-born Prince Albert in 1840.

Krampus really hit his stride in the late 1800’s with the invention of color printing.  This is when the exchanging Christmas cards really took off and Krampus became a Christmas icon. He appeared on cards that were sent on the Eve of St. Nicholas.  German-speaking people around the world took to sending their friends and children postcards that featured the Krampus on them.  And in most cases, the cards would bare the same, haunting phrase;  GRUSS VOM KRAMPUS.  Translation:  Greetings From Krampus.  The message was intended to be a humorous reminder to be good, otherwise Krampus would have to come visit you in person that year.  

Krampus fell on some hard times in the early 1900’s.  World War I put an end to the Krampus postcard fad when the import of German greeting cards came to a halt.  In the 1930’s, when the fascists rose to power, popular holiday parties called "Krampus Balls" and depictions of Krampus in Austria and Germany became strictly forbidden.  

But after the war, Krampus returned to Europe.  And thanks to mounting holiday commercialism. Krampus was thrust back into the European mainstream with renewed vitality; our own little Krampus miracle.

While there were major movements in Austria to suppress the Krampus traditions stating that it was harmful to children, it endured but not unchanged. While older images a had more frightening and brutal images of Krampus - often looming menacingly over children, the post –war portray a more playful image of Krampus.

This lead to the lurid images being suffused with a sense of the comic and the surreal.  Krampus slowly became associated with the naughty side of the season, the sexy subtext of these very cheeky cards is hard to ignore.  By the time of the 1960's KRAMPUS became more associated with adults and sex (much like a St. Valentine's Day devil) and postcards of that time often portray him leering at or enticing nubile young women. 

Currently, Krampus is more popular than ever in Europe.  Each year on December 5th, young men in Eastern Europe dress in amazing and horrifyingly realistic Krampus costumes and participate in events knows as krampuslaufs (Krampus Runs.)  Hundreds of Krampuses rampage through the streets carrying torches and swinging cowbells, sticks and chains.  At the end of the parade, Saint Nicolas himself appears to get the monsters under control and hand out gifts to the good boys and girls in the crowd.  These bizarre parades are ensuring that the children of the 21st century will grow up with found (and slightly twisted) memories of both Saint Nick and his side kick  Krampus.

...and one day I will get Mr. Fleam to let me tag along to one of the Krampus run in Austria!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Is it Krampus or Ruprecht or Black Peter?

Good morning morts!  It is a lovely day and I cannot wait expound on my current favorite subject the Krampus.  And it doesn't hurt that tomorrow is Krampusnacht!

Now, Krampus is not the only sinister holiday figure celebrated.  There are many similar figures that evloved from those same pre-christian customs.

Another group of figures from pre-christian Austrian and Bavarian folklore is the Perchten.  The custom surrounding them has the same look and feel as Krampus in the sense of costume but these wild spirits are concerned with driving out the evil spirits of winter not the morality of children.  The Perchten are primarily associated with mid-winter and the embodiment of fate and the souls of the dead.  Traditionally, the Perchten runs are held around Jan 6th.  Over the years though, the Perchten and Krampus have combined and are increasing being celebrated in one event.  

Perchten Awakening on Otscher

Knecht Ruprecht 
He is St. Nicholas' most familiar attendant in Germany.   His name means servant.  Ruprecht was a dark and sinister figure clad in a tattered robe with a big sack on his back in which, legend has it, he will place all naughty children.  "Just wait until Ruprecht comes" is still a common threat in German homes.

Knecht Ruprecht

Zwarte Piet 
Also known as  Black Peter, 
 was established in the Netherlands as the Sinterklaas helper in the 1845 book Sinterklaas en Zijn Knecht. He rides over the rooftops with Sinterklaas, listens down chimneys to check children's behavior, and delivers gifts.   The Piets are popular and the Dutch see them as more fun-loving and mischievous than the more stately bishop.  Piets are also found in Belgium.

Sinterklaas with Piets

Père Fouettard 
The French combine Saint Nicholas and their own legend of P’ere Fouttard.  He is found in France and Luxembourg, where he's known as Housécker. He is the evil butcher who was forever condemned to follow St. Nicolas as a punishment for luring the little lost children into his shop. He is tasked with punishing naughty children by whipping them.

Le Pere Fouettard

This incarnation is nearly all brown: dressed in brown, with brown hair and beard, and a face darkened with lard and soot. He is St. Nicholas' helper in Switzerland. He carries a switch and sack, but no longer uses them. Children were told that Schmutzli would beat naughty children with the switch and carry them off in the sack to gobble them up in the woods. 

Schmutzli and St. Nicholas

My personal favorite is still the Krampus.

Monday, December 3, 2012

What do we do with Krampus?

I slept like the dead last night (no pun intended) so I decided to get up early and continue what has tuned into my history lesson on the Krampus while the early morning tea is brewing.

Now that St. Nicholas had a new side-kick, the church really needed to present him in an appropriate light.

First, what should be look like?  Krampus was the inferior pagan companion to the superior christian St. Nicholas.  Originally he had been depicted as very animalistic with horns and shaggy fur but over time he developed more devilish horns and cloven hoofs.  Some images even depict him as the devil himself.

He was also given rusty chains to carry to show his servitude to St. Nicholas.  The only remnants of his ‘nature spirit’ beginnings were the bundles or switches he carried with him and his bells used to chase off the sting of winter. 

Next, he needed a purpose - a reason he was hanging around with a Saint.  If St. Nicholas was the well respected and generous figure who rewarded good children, it seemed logical that this less-than-christian beast would be saddled with all the not-so-christian acting children.  So the dark companion of St. Nicholas took on the task of punishing the naughty ankle-biters.  He did this by leaving them rocks and coal as presents and if they were really rotten, he was known to swat them with switches and rusty chains before dragging them away.

Oh dear, I have to get back at it. 

Sorry to cut it short today but Mr. Fleam has company coming over this evening and I have to get everything in order.

 I will pick back up tomorrow.  I promise I am almost done.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

St. Nicholas, Meet Krampus

Now, to continue my back story of Krampus, I need to talk a little about St. Nicholas.

St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas was a monk. It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around 280 A.D. in modern-day Turkey. Much admired for his piety and kindness, St. Nicholas became the subject of many legends. He was born into a wealthy family. Once St. Nicholas decided to follow the church, he decided to share all his riches with the people that he deemed needed it most.   When he gave away his wealth, Nicholas is said to have allotted much of it to orphaned children, travelers who had fallen upon hard times and prostitutes. 

 In his most famous exploit a poor man had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for any of them. This meant they would remain unmarried and probably been sold into slavery or become prostitutes. Knowing the father would accept no charity; Nicholas went to his house under the cover of night and threw three purses filled with gold coins through the windows. 

His name, deeds and devotion spread throughout the countryside that he traveled. Devotion to Nicholas’ memory was widespread and his formal veneration had begun within a century after his death. As devotees to St. Nicholas spread, a tradition of celebration, giving of gifts, especially to children (to commemorate his charity), and the making of special "St. Nicholas Cookies" grew up around his feast day. His feast day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death, December 6. 

By the Renaissance, St. Nicholas was the most popular saint in Europe. Although the Reformation and Counter-Reformation led to a waning in the veneration of Saints, the reverence of St. Nicholas survived in Europe as people continued to place nuts, apples, and sweets in shoes left beside beds, on windowsills, or before the hearth. 
Speaking of sweets, I think I need a short break, be right back.

Mmmmmm, there is nothing like a few pastries and a nice, hot cup of tea.  It will make you right as rain.

Tea and Sweets by Dan Brown

Before I continue, we let me say a word about the name Krampus. While I do not know when the word Krampus was first used, I do know it comes from the German word for claw, Krampen. I mention this because I will be using the term Krampus from here on. 

Now back to our story….

While church celebrations of St. Nicholas were spreading throughout settled Europe, many remote villages that were inaccessible to the church's influence continued celebrating the winter solstice as they had for hundreds of years.  This was the origin of what later evolved into the Krampus. 

As the church's influence slowly penetrated all of Europe, these old, heathen celebrations were banned.   Fortunately for the Krampus lovers, the people of the remote villages around Austria, Switzerland, Bavaria and Italy refused to let these customs and rituals die out despite the church's directive.  After many failed attempts by the church to dissolve these winter celebrations, they decided the best course of action would be to absorb the old pagan imagery into the new church winter traditions.

And that is how St. Nicholas met the Krampus. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Holiday Season is upon us!

The holiday season is here with all its noise, lights, presents and hustling about to get everything done in time. The Tea Room is as busy as ever with everyone trying to keep up with all the festivities.  

While I have come to accept that most morts prefer to celebrate their winter holiday on Dec 25th, I must admit, I find the Dec 6th celebration of St. Nicholas much more appealing.  Well, let me correct myself, I find&nbsp Krampusnacht or Night of the Krampus which is actually Dec 5th, St. Nicholas's Eve, the most enjoyable.

Being such a Krampus supporter for so long, I naturally assumed everyone knew about him.   But lately, I have realized that most morts have never even heard of Krampus and those who have, seem to know only bits and pieces of his story.

I thought I would take a few moments and a couple of blog entries over the days leading up to St. Nicholas' Eve to share all I know of my beloved Krampus.

Krampus by Miss Monster

Krampus, sometimes called the Christmas Devil or Demon, is an interesting figure with a very unique  and somewhat sketchy background.

His story begins in ancient times.  To grasp his full greatness, there are several other ideologies that you first need to understand; the Sun god, the Horned god and how they are connected to the winter solstice.

It is widely accepted that most pre-Christian cultures based their mythos and beliefs on nature and the solar cycle.  Many saw the Sun as a god.  The Sun was a provider of light and warmth.  As the Sun became stronger in the spring and summer, it was associated to the growth of vegetation and the reproduction of animals.  In contrast, as the Sun became weaker in the fall and winter, the harvest would end and the fields would be bare until the spring time.  During this dark time, many cultures performed rituals to insure the Sun’s return and the survival of the tribe.    

Many of these rituals were held during the shortest days of the year, the winter solstice.  They were devised to prevent the sun from getting any weaker.  The actual shortest day falls on or around the 21st of December and then around the 25th of December is when the sun visibly begins to rise again after several days at its lowest ebb.  The rebirth of the Sun was a time to celebrate.

Sun God from Hogmanay Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland

Many stories were created for these winter rituals to bring back the Sun.  Specifically, in German and Austrian folklore, multiple legends describe a sinister figure with horns, covered with shaggy hair and sometimes dressed in tattered robes with a basket or sack on his back.  This creature’s job was to drive out the evil spirits of winter.  He was clearing the way for the return of the Sun and harvest for the next year. 

Cernunnos by Shaneesj

In Austria, the custom was for people to don wooden masks and costumes made of sheep skin and ram horns.  Theses fierce creatures would then parade through the towns.  The entire activity was dedicated to warding off evil spirits (that would be winter) and blessing the towns people with prosperity (that would be a good harvest). 

As these legends spread from Austria to neighboring countries, many different cultural traditions were born.

These are the origins of Krampus and the mid-winter festivals that are practiced today.    

Oh my, things are starting to pick up here.  I need to brew a new pot of Earl Grey, Mr Fleam is on his way in and will be in a right cranky state if his tea is not ready.

I will continue with my Krampus story tomorrow.