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Santa Claus meet Krampus: The jolly red fellow with the round belly grew out of a darker tradition of holiday gift giving, while the pre-Christian Krampus survives in a series of Austrian and Bavarian festivals.

Be good for more than just goodness' sake! Why being on the naughty list a century ago might have involved being stuffed in a sack and thrown in a river Dean Tweed,  National Post  Published: Thursday, December 24, 2009

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Two figures, shrouded in a snowstorm, make their way

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toward a brightly lit cottage. A sharp rap on the windowpane announces their arrival and a gust of wind

Illustrated: The saints and demons of Christmas

Sat, Jan. 30, 2010 ∙ 8:55 PM ET by Erin Valois

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flings the door open. A stately bishop steps in, crosier in one hand and a bag stuffed with toys slung over his shoulder. Behind him lurches a creature rattling an iron chain. Horns sprout from his head, his tongue lolls like an eel and he leers at the three children being ushered before him. The children know what's to come. They're to perform a dance for St. Nicholas and his demon helper, the Krampus. If they've been dutiful and perform the dance well, Nicholas will reward them with toys and sweets. One misstep and the Krampus will whip them or, worse, toss them in his basket and carry them off to Hell.

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typical image of the holiday season for generations of German and Austrian children up until a century ago. The benign portrait of a jolly, fat Santa Claus indulging eager children at Christmastime is the accepted one today but, before Santa took centre stage, the gift giver

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Santa Claus

J.D. Salinger dies: Jan 28 Story Tools

The reclusive fugitive from fame, J.D. Saligner, author of The Catcher in the Rye, passes away at the age of 91. Eric Sorensen reports.

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was a dark, equivocal character, emerging out of the primeval forest to mete out punishment and reward in

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equal measure.

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Illustrated: The saints and demons of Christmas Share This Story

There's St. Nicholas, the original gift giver, the fourthcentury bishop of Myra in what is now Turkey. Legend has it that St. Nicholas took pity on a widower who couldn't afford to provide dowries for his three daughters. Nicholas threw three sacks of gold through

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the window, giving the girls the means to secure husbands and escape lives of prostitution. There's Weihnachstsmann, the solitary hooded figure who supplanted St. Nicholas in much of Germany after Protestantism ended the cult of saints. There's Pelznickel, or "Nicholas in Furs," covered head-to-toe in thick hides and carrying a menacing birch switch, who kept children in line throughout the German Rhineland. "The idea of a gift giver who travels the world fires the imagination," says John Grossman, author of Christmas Curiosities: Odd, Dark, and Forgotten Christmas. "Every culture finds it irresistible to reinvent the character to bring him closer to the spirit of the age." In many of these traditions, the gift giver had a sinister helper who carried out the disciplinary work. In southern Germany and Austria it was the demonic Krampus. In northern Germany it was Knecht Ruprecht, a wild man blackened by chimney soot and brandishing a whip of birch twigs. Dr. Gerry Bowler of the University of Manitoba, author of The World Encyclopedia of Christmas and Santa Claus: A Biography, says these "shaggy characters" were entirely appropriate for the age. "In northern European cultures, the days leading up to Christmas were a truly terrifying time when malevolent beings walked the earth. It was customary for the entire family to sleep together in one room on Christmas Eve for safety's sake. The spell was broken when the sun rose on Christmas Day." In the 1800s, German printers perfected the technology of colour lithography and flooded the U.S. market with inexpensive holiday postcards. Americans happily sent their relatives images of the blue-clad Weihnachtsmann and the sinister Knecht Ruprecht. Opinion makers in the American upper classes, however, were dismayed by this invasion of wild foreign characters and the equally wild festivities they provoked, where crowds of costumed drunkards would break up church services and invade homes, demanding alms and hospitality. In a campaign to domesticate the holiday, intellectuals in the former Dutch colony of New York championed Sinterklaas, the benign Dutch gift giver. Starting with an appearance in Washington Irving's History of New York in 1809, his wholesome image was refined by a generation of writers into the Santa Claus we recognize today. Two people were key. Clement Clarke Moore, in his 1823 poem A Visit from St. Nicholas, fixed many of the attributes we now take for granted: the toy-filled sleigh drawn by eight reindeer, the round belly "like a bowl full of jelly," the sly wink and the quick exit up the chimney. The political cartoonist Thomas Nast gave the character his final touches. In a series of annual illustrations for Harper's Illustrated Weekly from 1862 to 1886, Nast, a German immigrant, fleshed out the Santa Claus we know today - a big, round, bearded fellow with a ready laugh and a pipe in his mouth. Perhaps most importantly, Nast drew him in red. "The 19th century really defined Christmas as we know it," Grossman says. "The

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century started out in black and white and so did its depiction of Christmas. By the end of the century, Christmas was in full colour and Santa Claus was dressed in bright red." When the U.S. entered the First World War in 1917 the import of German holiday cards came to an abrupt stop. The enigmatic European gift givers, the alternative Santas and the sinister sidekicks all disappeared. Styles of child rearing had changed too and modern parents disowned the dark, punitive gift-giver tradition that had fuelled holiday nightmares for so many generations. The jolly fat fellow in red had won the marketing battle and banished the whip-wielding demons. Grossman, though, thinks the demons may be on the verge of a comeback. "People are a little bored with what has become the universal image of Santa Claus. The American character has triumphed but he's become a bit bland and predictable in the process. I think there's a sense in society that we've gone too far with political correctness, that we need to hold children accountable, hold ourselves accountable." Get the National Post newspaper delivered to your home

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