Much of my clinical work lately has been helping parents set limits with their children and take control of their homes. It is interesting how some parents have the knack, and others do not. Many have tried spanking and harsh punishments and threats, and find they don’t work. Others have just given up, and let their children run wild. I was a particularly well-behaved child, and my parents never spanked or yelled or used fear or intimidation. I need to think more on how they did it. This is not a new problem. I think every generation complains that children are getting worse and worse, and try innovative ways to get their children to behave. Many of these ways involve trying to scare children into good behavior, especially in December. So, take heed, naughty Baboons. Tonight is Krampusnacht!!
The Krampus is a Bavarian, Austrian, and central European figure who is said to visit homes on the Night of December 5. He was invoked to scare children into good behavior. He is hideous, with horns, and has a basket in which he carries away naughty children to eat them, drown them, or take them to Hell. The picture below is an example of a Krampus Card from the 19th century. Notice that it is the boy who is naughty and the girl who is good. I think this perpetuates stereotypes.
I had never heard of Krampus until recently. They aren’t characters from northern Germany, where my family comes from. My mother told me that that the Christ child would bring the presents when they were at church on Christmas eve. How mild and comforting is that! (If any of you haven’t read David Sedaris’ 6-8 Black Men, you need to read it.) Krampus parades are quite popular in Austria. You can see how terrifying they are in the video clip.
Belsnickel is another German character from Christmas who sort of combines St. Nick with the Krampus. He was dressed in rags and fur, and carried a switch as well as a bag of goodies. He arrived 1–2 weeks before Christmas, and he knew exactly which of the children had been naughty during the year. He knocked on the door or window with his stick and the children either answered a question for him or sang some type of song. In exchange, he tossed candies onto the floor. If the children jumped too quickly for the treats, they would end up getting struck with Belsnickel’s switch. He orginated in south-west Germany, and was brought to the US by German immigrants to Pennsylvania and Indiana.
It doesn’t seem that Europeans were the only ones who had trouble getting children to behave. I found this photo of Japanese folklore characters called Namehage, who go from house to house carrying knives on New Year’s Eve and ask if there are any naughty children inside. They are not that different than Krampus. They give the children lectures on how to behave. I find them pretty scary. I find it even more interesting that they, too, come out at the same time in winter as Santa Claus, Krampus, and Belsnickel. Why? What is so significant about that that time of year?
By Douglas P Perkins (Douglaspperkins (talk)) – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11994072
Scaring children into good behavior doesn’t work, especially if the scary characters only arrive in December. I find that structure, consistency, parents getting off their phones, natural consequences, and positive praise work very well. Daughter asked me yesterday “Do you remember when you cancelled my birthday party when I got a C on a test when I was in Grade 5?” There is a lot more to that story, but I told her that was unnecessarily harsh, and I know better ways to handle that now. When will we ever learn?
What scared you as a child? What is your parenting philosophy? How did your parents discipline? Did you worry that Santa might bring you coal?