I hope you haven't been naughty?

More diverse than those of the saintly Nikolaus are the many legends and traditions surrounding his often wild companions. The pagan origin of all of these figures is evident although difficult to trace.

His best known companion is Knecht Ruprecht, "Knecht" meaning servant. Historically, 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. (A famous poem by Theodor Storm features Knecht Ruprecht and his whip.)

St. Nikolaus also appears together with St. Peter, with an angel, the Christchild (Christkindl). As the splendor of the candle-lit Christmas tree and emphasis on the birth of Chris, began to shift the function of the gift-giving St. Nikolaus, Knecht Ruprecht became the servant and companion of the Christchild. In this role Ruprecht became the patron saint of Christmas and was called "Weihnachtsmann," Father Christmas or Santa Claus.

In Bavaria St. Nikolaus may be followed by the hideous Klaubauf, a shaggy monster with horns. In Lower Austria the saint is followed by a similar horned creature, called Krampus, covered with bells and dragging chains; in Styria this attendant is named Bartel.

Sometimes a female figure appears with him, usually a boy dressed up as Budelfrau in Lower Austria, Berchtel in Swabia, and Buzebergt in the neighborhood of Augsburg. Buzebergt wears black rags, has a blackened face and unkempt hair. Others are Rumpelklas, Bellzebub, Pelznickel, Hans Muff, Klaubauf, Drapp or Zwarte Peter.

Ruth Reichmann

  • My thanks to the Grossgmainer Krampusse for sending me the above images and information.

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