Fear of disappointment and fear that tingles your spine are so different they scarcely deserve the same name. Sure, Santa may leave you a lump of coal if you misbehave, but that’s nothing to being beaten with a switch and carted off to a demon’s lair.
The goat-horned, cloven-footed Krampus of central Europe punishes the naughty on Krampusnacht, the eve of Saint Nicholas Day in early December, while the saint rewards everyone else. Young men in Krampus masks parade through the streets, the drunker the scarier. Krampus greeting cards were a fad of the early 1900s.
Saint Nicholas and the Krampus may seem opposites but they’re far from enemies. Some cards show them working happily together, good cop and bad cop, the yin and the yang. I wonder what broader lessons these agents of joy and woe might offer us this season.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.