by Joan Seth
Christmas is commonly known as a time for celebration, for gift sharing and having special meals. Although a Christian holiday, Christmas is widely celebrated by many non-Christians, and some of its celebratory customs include pre-Christian or secular themes and origins.
The concept of Christmas revolves around the birth of Jesus Christ, however, most experts believe that Jesus was instead born in the Spring and that Christmas is actually a pagan winter festival.
But to many people, especially children, Christmas is a joyous occasion as they receive gifts from family and friends. Traditionally, a mythological figure called Father Christmas or Santa Claus, would travel around the world, giving gifts to kids on Christmas Eve.
Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas was noted for the care of children, generosity, and the giving of gifts. He traditionally appeared in bishoply attire, accompanied by helpers, and enquired about the behaviour of children during the past year, before deciding whether they deserved a gift or not.
However, in certain cultures, there is a belief in certain companions of Santa Claus. Unfortunately, they are more of the sinister and evil side, and do not really fit in the theme of a festival. Here's a look at some of them:
In Austria, Krampus is a scary figure who wears black rags and masks. He traditionally warns and punishes bad children while accompanying Saint Nicholas on his travels. Images of Krampus usually show him with a basket on his back used to carry away bad children and dump them into the pits of Hell. Not what you expected.
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Zwarte Piet is commonly known as a Devil who was enslaved by Saint Nicholas to help him. He appears in traditions originating from the Netherlands and Spain.
He is often portrayed as a mischievous character. Parents will tell their children that if they have been good, Zwarte Piet will bring them gifts and sweets, but if they have been bad, Piet will scoop them up, stuff them in his huge dufflebag and spirit them away as punishment.
Nowadays, the character of Zwarte Piet is usually linked to racism than festivities.
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Knecht Ruprech is of French origin. He was said to be a murderer of three children, until Saint Nicholas discovered the murders and resurrected the dead children. The murderer, out of shame and repentance, decides to become a servant of Saint Nicholas.
Knecht Ruprech travels with Saint Nicholas and punishes naughty children by whipping them. He distributes small whips instead of gifts.
Ruprecht walks with a limp, and wears black clothes. His dirty face and clothes are attributed to the soot he collects as he goes down chimneys.
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