Cultural Celebrations: Nikolaustag & Krampus

Picture of the Pennsylvania Dutch version of t...

Picture of the Pennsylvania Dutch version of the Belsnickel, taken in the 1950s at an event near Philadelphia to which young children were brought for the specific purpose of being scared into good behavior by this creature. This particular figure is carrying a switch with which he threatened the children in the room. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nikolaus with Knecht Ruprecht

Nikolaus with Knecht Ruprecht (Photo credit:

December 6th was the feast day of St. Nicholas.  This also means it was Nikolaustag in Germany! It is tradition for children to put their boots (or shoes, nowadays) outside their bedroom door in hopes of receiving treats and small gifts from Nikolaus for being good throughout the year.  These gifts usually consist of sweets or cookies, fruit or small toys.  If a child has been naughty, they are left with birch twigs.  Nikolaus or the Weihnachtsmann is said to resemble what we envision in the US as Santa Claus.



Weihnachtsmann (Photo credit: Manuel Bartsch)

In some parts of Germany, Austria and other areas around the Alps, it is believed that Nikolaus has a companion known as Krampus.  Krampus resembles a devil and is responsible for distributing “gifts” to the naughty children, such as the twigs or lumps of coal.


Krampus is the Austrian name, but he is also known as Knecht Ruprecht in Germany, Schmutzli in Switzerland, Zwarte Piet in the Netherlands and Flanders and Belsnickel in the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition.


Krampus (Photo credit: Paolo Vercesi)


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