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December 7, 2004

Naughty or nice

(UPDATE, 12/10)

(Posted by pk) I have this 19th century drawing that I cut out of the Times one year in Brooklyn that I always put on the Christmas tree: a rendering of the sinister cousin of Santa Claus that some European ethnic group taught its children to fear should they be found naughty. Rather than Santa bringing punitive switches or coal, this tribe threatened that a whole other mean guy would come instead.

I can't remember what his name was, because I immediately started calling him Father Spankings. He's got the long hair, the beard, and a rough-hewn fur hat and robe, but with wild, cruel, black-rimmed eyes, and lips curled back from enraged teeth. He's got ahold of one recalcitrant urchin by the arm, is clutching a stick in his other hand, and has two or three unhappy children in a basket on his back, bound no doubt for some Black Forest lair and the punishment they surely deserve.

It's a bracing image. Anyway, after Christmas I slide the drawing in with the holiday CDs, and it's always a half-surprise and pleasure to find it again; it's held up pretty well for a piece of newsprint. It's the last thing that goes on the tree, tucked in some illuminated spot deep in the branches.

This year, however, Max is old enough to notice these things (he'll be three late next month), so I had to explain to him who Father Spankings is--trying to convey that, y'know, it's funny. He grew decidedly sober, and I started feeling bad, even though I assured him that he was not naughty in any macro sense and need not fear Father Spankings. I'm sure he's never even contemplated metaphysical naughtiness before, but he's heard the word a few times here lately.

I saw Max before the tree a couple times over the weekend, regarding the picture, and finally Sunday night I asked him if he'd like me to put Father Spankings away. He said he would. I told him there is no such thing as Father Spankings, that he's just pretend, and no more a threat than the Abominable Snow Monster--who interests Max greatly, but doesn't seem to haunt him, being, in the end, stupid and toothless. I told him that it would be Santa, and Santa only, who visits our house on Christmas Eve.

I don't like Max to be troubled, of course, but I do think fears like that take a kid to a deep and awesome place. I still have reverent memories of things that scared me on that level--the dark flipside of my twilight half-belief in Santa--and anybody will tell you that the best parts of those Christmas specials were the remorseless appearances of the Snow Monster and the Winter Warlock (who is scarier but, in retrospect, for far too short a time before he gets that old toy religion).

We unfortunately lose those fears later for ones of a more blunt and real nature. By then it's probably fair for us to be judged, but there are no naughty children.

(UPDATE 12/10): Much, much more on Black Peter, Ruprecht, Rumpelklas...

...from Wikipedia (some format edits):

Knecht Ruprecht, Companion of Father Christmas, is also known as "Servant Ruprecht", "Farmhand Ruprecht", "Pelzebock", "Pelznickel" ("Nicholas in furs"), "Zwarte Piet" or "Zwarte Peter" in the Netherlands and Flanders, "Black Peter", and "Schmutzli Samichlaus" in Switzerland, sometimes associated with Saint Rupert. Other names include "Rumpelklas", "Bellzebub", "Hans Muff", "Drapp", and "Buzebergt" in the neighborhood of Augsburg.

His is a character found throughout Germanic peoples and cultures. In Bavaria Saint Nikolaus is accompanied by "Klaubauf", a shaggy monster with horns. In Austria the horned creature is covered with bells and dragging chains, and is called "Krampus". In Styria it is servant "Bartel". The term "Krampus" is relatively synonymous with devil.

Often the subject of winter poems and tales, Ruprecht travels with Santa Claus or his various equivalents, carrying with him a rod (sometimes a stick, bundle of switches or whip, and in modern times often a broom) and a sack. He is sometimes dressed in black rags, bearing a soot-blackened face and unruly black hair.

In some of the tales the children would be summoned to the door to perform tricks, such as a dance or singing a song to impress upon Santa and Ruprecht that they were indeed good children. Those who performed badly would be beaten soundly by Servant Ruprecht, and those who performed well were given a gift or some treats. Those who preformed badly enough or had committed other misdeeds throughout the year were put into Ruprecht's sack and taken away, variously to Ruprecht’s home in the Black Forest, or to be tossed into a river. In other versions the children must be asleep, and would either awake to find their shoes filled with sweets, coal, or in some cases a stick.

Over time, other customs developed: parents giving kids who misbehaved a stick instead of treats and saying that it was a warning from Nikolaus that, "unless you improve by Christmas day, Nikolaus' black servant Ruprecht would come and beat you with the stick and you wouldn't get any Christmas gifts." Often there would be variations to the particulars idiosyncratic to the individual families.

In some regions, the local priest was informed by the parents about their children's behavior and would then personally visit the homes in the traditional Christian garment and threaten them with rod-beatings.

In parts of Austria, Krampusse, whom local tradition says are Nikolaus's helpers (typically children of poor families), roamed the streets and sledding hills during the festival. They wore black rags and masks, dragging chains behind them, and occasionally hurling them towards children in their way. These Krampusläufe (Krampus runs) still exist, although perhaps less violent than in the past.

In parts of the United States in the 19th century, "Pelznickel" traditions were maintained for a time among immigrants at least as far west as the US state of Indiana. (Link and emphasis mine! pk) In this branch of the tradition, the father or other older male relative was often "busy working outside" or had to see to some matter elsewhere in the house when Pelznickel arrived.

Boy, what those Europeans used to tell the kids! I always wondered where Dad was when Unkle Pelznickel was administering another brutal Yuletide beating.

A terse summation can be found here: "Black Peter is an evil, crippled dwarf who lives in a coal mine."

Nice thumbnails here, and check out this--and this (click Fotos)! Clearly, Krampus runs are kind of a Satanic European tractor pull. Volksy!

Black Peter is also the title of a Sherlock Holmes tale; film director Milos Forman's 1963 debut; and, unfortunately, a song by the Grateful Dead, which resulted in this.

Rotten Dot Com also has an amusing Krampus character summary, likening him to the Norse god Loki, and introduces notions I'm not about to start explaining to Max. ("After all, he had a foot-long red tongue.")

All this, and still no Web rendering of the drawing I clipped from the paper. But I'm beginning to realize our immigrant ancestors left more behind in Europe than persecution and poverty--like snowmobile rallies in Satan masks!

Big thanks to Jim for the tip.

Posted by pk at 8:45 AM

December 4, 2004

On Hardware and Cloneland

A quick note re: life in cloneland and its discontents...

I guess I don't mind spreading the guts of a machine out all over the floor and trying to put three machines together to make one good one. This morning so far, in order:

And that's about where we're at. The difference, I guess, is having the eMac sitting here in all of its sealed box glory. I can go in to the elbows on the clone and it's no big... building your own is cheaper as long as your time is free, etc. etc. Good to have a pearly white box that trained professionals will come to fix, though.

So... off to the computer store for a few niceties, some rearranging, and then back to life in a three platform home.

Posted by mph at 12:37 PM

December 1, 2004

Who Let All This Riff-Raff Into the Room?

MeFi comes to grips with the $5 People:

We have the snarky guy, the pedant, the gay guy, the conservative, the anarchist... usually more than one in any pigeonhole but eventually someone gayer, snarkier or more knowledgeable is going to come along.

How true.

insinkerator.jpgI think the instigating post was pure performance art genius, but then again... this sort of gave me the giggles, too:

Delvoye has given a name to his harsh creature: Cloaca, referring to the ancient sewer in Rome. But while the cloaca maxima proved to be useful, this Cloaca goes beyond every purpose, except of course revealing of the meaning of art. So, too, the spending and earning of money is part of its purpose. The machine daily delivered turds that were signed and sold for $1,000 each.


At a school visit, a little girl burst into tears in front of the machine. She might have been right. After all, she wasn't expecting to see such a powerful, shitty portrait of man.

ObFullDisclosure: I am a $5 Person. To the extent I will probably never, ever post on the front page, and will likely never, ever comment on anything, one could argue it's a wasted $5. On the other hand, I do read me some MeFi, so it seemed more like a donation.

Identity Crisis

For the past three years, I've gotten comfortable with "pdxmph" as a fairly bulletproof handle to pick for almost anything. "mph" is often taken, and "michaelhall" is always taken. But it occurs to me that with the possibility of a move, the "pdx" becomes sort of misleading. So what to do?

I think it's time to bring back the Insinkerator. It's comfy, it's classic, and it's a way to wear a lurking childhood anxiety on my sleeve without looking like I'm wearing lurking childhood anxieties on my sleeve.

Is anything more menacing than the rubber sphincter of an Insinkerator-empowered drain?

None. None more menacing.

Posted by mph at 5:23 PM