We all know St. Nicholas was a nice guy, delivering presents and cups of good cheer and the like.
But what’s missing from those classic tales, heavy on the sugarplums, is the notion that the jolly old man used to hire out to get his dirty work done.
Someone had to sift the naughty from the nice, and Santa wasn’t about to get his red suit or his reputation be-smudged.
Enter a pointy-tongue, dual-horn devil named Krampus who Santa kept chained out of sight in the back – probably beyond the toy shop, past the reindeer games stadium and behind the junkyard field of rusty old sleighs.
According to German folklore, every year for centuries it was this creature’s job to find the naughty and dole out some punishment, usually with the help of a switch.
But as time faded away, so did talk of the Krampus, whose legend became buried under a mound of silvery tinsel, peppermint sticks and other joyful holiday traditions.
That is, until the folks of NoDa heard about him and decided to resurrect the hairy beast.
Dec. 13, the neighborhood known for its quirky fun will hold its first Krampus Krawl, modeled after Krampuslauf, a yearly event in some German-speaking towns that sends several Krampuses chasing people through the streets.
As the tradition dictates, festivities kick off when St. Nick unleashes his Krampuses onto the public.
NoDa’s St. Nick, a towering 8-foot jelly-bellied gentle giant, will release his 10 beasts after a few pints from Heist Brewery at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
Throughout the evening, businesses in the neighborhood will open their doors to offer holiday treats, Krampus face painting, storytelling, live bands and a Krampus-themed art exhibit.
For those unfamiliar with the Krampus, its organizers have hired the Christmas Witch, a local storyteller who also goes by the name Robin Berkman.
Berkman travels the region as a professional storyteller, usually taking on personas as Mother Nature or the Fairy Godmother. The Christmas Witch is a little bit darker character, she said, who sports a long, wart-riddled nose and pointy elf ears that peak out from under her witch’s hat.
While Berkman’s other personas can spin tales about princesses and magical lands, the Christmas Witch keeps her pointy finger on the Krampus.
“In Victorian times, he traveled around with St. Nicholas,” said Berkman. “As St. Nicholas would deliver presents to the good children, the Krampus would give the bad children rocks.”
Or worse. Some of the darker versions of the legend involve children being carried off into the underworld.
But Eric Hoenes, who will play one of the Krampuses in NoDa, assures visitors that won’t happen Saturday night.
“We’re going to let people select the reaction they want,” said Hoenes. “We won’t be grabbing anybody that doesn’t want play with us.”
Nine other Krampuses will wander the streets with Hoenes, most of whom are neighborhood bankers, professors and artists during the day.
So what’s Krampus’ definition of “naughty”? Are we talking plucking a grape from the bunch before paying at the grocery store, or snatching a co-worker’s pudding cup from the breakroom fridge?
NoDa’s Krampuses will let you decide.
“We’ll have a couple of angels with the group who will ask you to take a ‘naughty’ or ‘nice’ sticker,” said Hoenes. A “nice” sticker will result in a piece of candy.
“But if you self-report yourself as being naughty, then the Krampus might come after you,” he said.
If the event takes off, Hoenes said, it may become a yearly tradition for the neighborhood, which is always looking for a unique way to celebrate and entertain.
“Here in NoDa, we have a lot of fun events at various times of the year,” he said. “This is just a chance to get people in the neighborhood for the holidays, and have our own little take on a holiday event.”