Will You be Visited by Krampus this Christmas?

by Kelly R. Smith

Impending doom at the hands of Krampus
Impending doom at the hands of Krampus
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When the holiday season begins to unfold, we begin to indulge in our favorite Christmas traditions. These vary greatly depending on locale and culture, but they’re all fun and grounded in tradition. Everybody is familiar with Santa Claus and his cohort, Rudolf, he of the illuminating red nose. But if you’ve been naughty this year, don’t be surprised if you get a visit from Krampus. Pity you.

Who is Krampus?

The malevolent and mythological Krampus is represented in the form of a hairy half-goat, half-demon. His job? To discipline wee children in the weeks prior to Christmas. His primary stomping grounds are in Germany, Austria, and neighboring Slovakian countries.

While the various Santa Claus representations are jolly old blokes who instill good behavior with the promise of gifts and candy, Krampus punishes naughty kids with whips and birch branches. He threatens to pull them down to his underworld in the event that they misbehave. St. Nicholas, a traditional Santa Claus figure, and Krampus, often work together, with St. Nicholas tending to the good children and Krampus menacing the naughty ones. It’s kind of a “good cop, bad cop” thing. To further increase anxiety, the Krampus goat-demon is traditionally depicted as a devil having a long, prehensile tongue and his feet are a curious mixture of human and hoof.

The History of Krampus

The term Krampus originates from the German word krampen which means “claw,” and the legend is old, pre-Christian in fact. During the 12th century, the Catholic Church not surprisingly tried to ban Krampus celebrations around the Christmas holiday because of the horned character’s resemblance to the devil. Krampus was also booted out of Austria during the 1930s at a time when the country suffered under fascist rule, as the Christian Social Party contended that the character, as represented, was unholy.

Modern Day Krampus

But in the end, it is hard to fight the will of the people and Krampus persisted in popular seasonal lore, with contemporary traditions featuring parades folks dressed in demonic-looking Krampus outfits in some European countries during December. In some countries Krampusnacht or “Krampus Night” is celebrated on December 5.

Today, the proliferation of the internet has exposed the traditional, and unusual-seeming Krampus lore to a multitude of people all over the world, giving Krampus a greater and more international presence during the Christmas season. Because of the figure’s pre-Christian roots, many neopaganists have come to embrace Krampus as one of their own.

So will you be visited by Krampus this Christmas? There might still be time to correct your naughty behavior. He’s watching; you can run but you can’t hide.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Who Was Halloween’s Jack-o’-Lantern?

The History Behind this Holiday’s Spooky, Eldritch Icon

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

Spooky Halloween Jack o' Lanterns
Spooky Halloween Jack o’ Lanterns
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This article was updated on 10/11/2021.

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This Halloween season, like many that have come before, people far and wide will be carving Jack o’ Lanterns and putting their creations on displays. For this, farmers all over the country thank you. You likely know of Halloween’s Irish origin, but where did this festive fellow come from? Once you know, you can wow your family and friends with your expertise with holiday trivia.

Who are Jack-o’-Lanterns Named For?

Jack has been a generic term for a lad since the 1500s and because of this, it found its way into a number of children’s songs and rhymes. The English own the original use of the phrase jack-o’-lantern. During the 17th century, it meant a night watchman who carried a lantern as he made his rounds.

But as it turns out, jack-o’-lantern was also a name for bizarre, flickering lights that were seen at night lingering over wetlands or peat bogs and thought to be fairies or ghosts. Actually, it’s natural phenomenon that is known as ignis fatuus, or “foolish fire,” friar’s lantern, and will-o’-the-wisp.

Fast Forward to the mid-1800s

What is known as a turnip lantern became known as a jack-o’-lantern. Young boys fashioned these hollowed-out and lit-up root veggies and used them to spook people. One Irish legend in particular says that this use of jack-o’-lantern was named after a fellow named Stingy Jack.

Fun fact: One quarter of all the candy sold annually in the U.S. is purchased for Halloween.

Dictionary.com

This legend has it that Stingy Jack believed that he had tricked the devil, however in fact the devil had the last laugh. Ever vindictive, the devil condemned Jack to a lonely eternity wandering over the earth with only an ember of hellfire to light his way. Oy Vey! Jack’s lanterns were carved out of potatoes, turnips in Scotland and Ireland, but beets were the vegetable of choice in England. When immigrants brought along this custom with them to North America, for some reason pumpkins eventually became the vegetable of choice. But it makes sense; they are easier to carve.

Pumpkin carving taken to the next level

A More Sinister Jack o’ Lantern

There is also a more dangerous rather than spooky version of a jack-o’-lantern. A poisonous glowing orange fungus known as Omphalotus olearius is commonly known by the layman as the jack-o’-lantern mushroom! It’s found in wooded areas across Europe, this glowing growth forms clusters at the base of decomposing tree stumps. Don’t eat it; try a Shiitake mushroom growing kit instead.

There’s your daily dose of Halloween history. There’s a lot more to Jack o’ Lantern than most people think.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Rosh Hashanah; the Jewish New Year

by Kelly R. Smith

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Rosh Hashanah; the Shofar (ram's horn) and the Star of David
Rosh Hashanah; the Shofar (ram’s horn) and the Star of David

Rosh Hashanah is the autumnal festival celebrating the start of the Jewish New Year. The term literally means “head of the year.” It takes place on the first and second days of Tishri, the seventh month, the Gregorian equivalent of September-October. So, in 2020 it starts on September 18. The only notable similarity it has to the Western, secular holiday is the opportunity to make a New Years resolution.

The two days are a time for introspection; that aspect doesn’t end at the conclusion of Rosh HaShanah but lasts for ten days which are known commonly as the Days of Awe, until Yom Kippur.

Traditions for Rosh Hashanah

You won’t find the term “Rosh Hashanah” in the Bible or the Torah to discuss this holiday. The Bible refers to the holiday as Yom HaZikkaron (the day of remembrance) or Yom T’ruah (the day of the sounding of the shofar). The holiday is instituted in Leviticus 23:24-25. One important observance of this holiday is hearing the sounding of the shofar (ram’s horn) in the synagogue. A total of 100 notes are sounded each day.

Notably, the shofar isn’t sounded when the holiday falls on the Sabbath. There is no work allowed on Rosh Hashanah. What is allowed, thankfully, is the eating of apples that are dipped in honey Symbolically, this is a wish for a sweet new year. Bread is also dipped in honey.

Another tasty tradition is to eat round challah bread. This symbolizes the eternal circle of the life as well as the cycle of a new year. The challah is formed in the shape of a crown because God is referred to as royalty several times during these times.

Another practice is called Tashlikh (“casting off”). It’s done by going to a source of flowing water, like a river or a creek, on the first day’s afternoon and divulging the contents of our pockets into the river. This symbolizes casting off our sins. Although this tradition is not discussed in the Bible, it’s an age-old custom.

What about greeting each other? The accepted greeting at during this holiday is L’shanah tovah (“for a good year”). This is a shortened version of “L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem” (or when addressing females, “L’shanah tovah tikatevi v’taihatemi”). This literally means “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”

In Judaism 101, Marcia Pravder Mirkin, when explaining The Days of Awe, says, “Among the customs of this time, it is common to seek reconciliation with people you may have wronged during the course of the year. The Talmud maintains that Yom Kippur atones only for sins between man and G-d. To atone for sins against another person, you must first seek reconciliation with that person, righting the wrongs you committed against them if possible.”

Now that you are familiar with Rosh Hashanah the Jewish New Year, you might be interested in these topics:

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Strange and Weird Christmas Traditions from Around the World

Does Your Family Have any Strange Holiday Quirks?

by Kelly R. Smith

A Christmas Tree Shootout!
A Christmas Tree Shootout!
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This article was updated on 12/24/20.

Christmas is one of the most celebrated holidays in the world. And it’s not just Christians that take advantage of this final festive occasion before the big blow-out that is New Years Eve which signals the end of one year and the ushering in of another; many members of other religions do indulge in Christmas.

The thing is, some of the traditions seem downright strange to Americans. But that’s OK; each to his (or her) own. That’s what makes the world go ’round. Let’s have a look at some of them, in no particular order.

Japan

Kentucky Fried Chicken Buckets
Kentucky Fried Chicken Buckets

While we consider turkey, ham, or something similar to be traditional fare, not so in Japan. Many Japanese folks prefer to make their Christmas dinner Kentucky Fried Chicken. It’s advisable to get it on a take-out basis; its popularity is such that reservations may have to be made to eat at a KFC restaurant on Christmas in Japan. I wonder how this got started?

Catalonia

Catalonia Poop Log
Catalonia Poop Log

The Catalonia Poop Log, or Caga Tió, strikes me as odd although festive in a naughty sort of way. It works like this: each and every night starting on December 8th, Caga Tió is “fed” and then covered with a blanket to protect him from catching a cold. On either Christmas Eve or Christmas day he is placed in the fireplace, beaten with a stick, and ordered to poop. He is encouraged, along with the beating, by singing songs. He proceeds to poop candies, nuts and and other treats. One last push yields an onion, a head of garlic, or a salt herring. I’ll pass on the candy, thank you very much.

Caganer, the pooping Christmas figurine from Catalonia
Caganer, the pooping Christmas figurine from Catalonia

Also from Catalonia, we proudly bring you caganer, or defecating figure, set out every year in the nativity scene along with the holy family and the three wise men. In the 18th century, 18th century, the caganer was traditionally represented as a peasant with his trousers down, bare bottom hanging out, complete with a pile of feces underneath. The exact meaning behind this figure is subject to debate, but it’s thought to symbolize fertility. Nowadays caganers can lampoon authority figures and celebrities. You have to ask, what is it with Catalonians and bowel movements?

Italy

 Befana from Spain
Befana from Spain

In some areas of Spain, forget Santa Claus or Sinterklaas; Befana takes center stage. She is reputed to visit homes during the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6) and leaves candy and presents in stockings for the good boys and girls. However, the bad children get coal, dark candy, or sticks. Even though she has the appearance of an old hag, in reality she is a kind soul and sweeps homes using a broom before she leaves. This is meant to brush away the problems of the previous year.

Ireland

Guinness Stout from Ireland
Guinness Stout from Ireland

Here in the USA we treat Santa to a glass of milk to slake his thirst and a plate of cookies to fuel him in his travels. Not so on the Emerald Isle; there he gets an offering of Guinness Stout and a slice of mince pie. Aye. I approve of this ritual.

Austria

Krampus, Christmas demon from Austria
Krampus, Christmas demon from Austria

The poop log’s got nothing on this guy! Krampus is half-goat, half-demon, he’s the stuff of nightmares and meant to keep the kiddies in line. During the Christmas season he punishes those who have misbehaved, in contrast with old St. Nick, who rewards the well-behaved with gifts. They sometimes work together, kind of a good-cop, bad-cop act. Classy, eh kiddies?

Compared to Other Countries…

Taken altogether, our whole Santa Claus, reindeer, and elves thing seems fairly tame! It never ceases to amaze how different societies handle these things. I hope you got a few chuckles learning about these strange and weird Christmas traditions. If so, share with your friends and social media.


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Visit Kelly’s profile on Pinterest.


About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.