German elves are far different than the joyful Santa helpers of today. Depending on where you reside in Deutschland, Saint Nikolas’s helper is a devilish ghoul or a dirty kidnapper prepared to stuff children into a dusty coal bag. The dark and dangerous German elves are embedded into the folklore celebrated during the Deutche yuletide season.
Krampus – Horned Demon
The scariest of the German Christmas elves is Krampus, a dark, devil-like demon with sharp horns and jagged teeth. He helps St. Nickolas in the Austrian and Bavarian regions. While the saintly bishop rewards good children with gifts and treats, his dark helper threatens bad children with whipping and potential kidnapping. In Berchtesgaden, near the Austrian border, scores of Germans dress-up as Krampus, haunting the Christmas Markets in early December.
Knecht Ruprecht – Dirty Bag Man
On the eve of St. Nikolaus Day, German children place a Nikolaus-Stiefel, (Nikolaus boot), outside the door. Naughty children face the rath of the dirty bearded Knecht Ruprecht, (Servant Ruprecht). The shabbiest of German elves, he is dressed in a grimy elf-like outfit with a coal slack slung over his hunched back. This helper fills some boots with coal, but is known to stuff bad children into his sack and take them into the dark forest to beat them with switches. Ruprecht is German for devil.
Evolution of German Elves
German elves crawled out of ancient folklore with the goal of teaching children the distinct rules of right and wrong. If you spoke to strangers, you end up with Red Riding Hood in the stomach of a wolf. If you wander from home, you bake in the witch’s oven, like Hansel and Gretel. The Brothers Grimm softened the edges of these violent stories, transforming them into happily-ever-after fairy tales. As German Christmas traditions where exported to other countries, like America, more joyous and playful Santa helpers emerged.
Germans do love their Krampus and Knecht Ruprecht. As you sip Gluehwein, a hot mulled wine, while touring the decorated Deutsche squares, you better watch out – German elves may be lurking around the corner.