I liked walking to the pub, along the beach into the village, which was festooned with ornate seasonal lighting and quirky front yard scenes of cardboard reindeer and chubby Santas. I needed to tell Camp about my dramatic childhood Santa experience.
“I do like the colourful lights and whimsical fairy tale displays,” Campbell said as I sat down at our usual table. “It brightens up the dark dreary days.”
“Do you know what day it was yesterday?” I asked Camp, after ordering two frosty mugs from Vicky, who wore a cute Santa hat with a white tassel.
“The 6th of December,” he answered with a curious look.
“Exactly, it was Saint Nicholas Day, commonly known around here as Santa Claus or simply Santa. Where I grew up Santa was a vastly different version then the one Coca Cola and Disney invented.”
“Oh yeah, how so?” Camp asked.
“Santa was a personage that struck fear and terror into the hearts of kids. I used to hide in the farthest corner under the bed in complete dread of the loathsome Santa. He would come into the homes of people where the parents had arranged the visit, dressed in red or blue with a kind of tiara like the pope on his bearded head and usually accompanied by two black robed and hooded servants or helpers. Nasty characters. Santa carried the dreaded black book with all your sins noted in there; how you didn’t listen to your parents, how many time you beat up your sister and how you didn’t do your homework. He would know details of your misdeeds and then meted out appropriate punishments with a whip made out of twigs, according to the wishes of the parents who pre-arranged all that, but we frightened kids didn’t know that. I tell you Camp, Saint Nick’s day was the most dreaded day in all the year. I would get whipped and only then, after the punishment, would Santa’s sinister helpers dispense some goodies like nuts and chocolates.”
“Sounds medieval,” Camp said, shaking his head.
“In Germany and Austria the evil Santa is called Krampus, a cloven hooved demon-like creature who snatches up the worst behaved children, stuffs them into a bag and then carries them off to his mountain lair. Our Santas in Switzerland would occasionally stuff kids into their bag with the threat to take them back to the North Pole . Every year, kids would die of heart attacks.”
“You’re kidding?” Camp said, almost spilling his beer.
“Remember, this was the fifties and sixties and before anybody heard of the Coca Cola or Hollywood version of Santa. But here comes the good part: We took our revenge to the Santas when we were teenagers. Armed with slingshots and hiding behind snow banks or trees we would wait for the Santas to emerge from their cars. Ducking and dodging our onslaught they would run towards their appointments through a rain of pellets and horseshoe nails. Then we would again wait for their return and attack them again, cat calling and throwing rocks and pepper them with projectiles from our boyish weapons. Most of these Santas were guys who would make a bit of extra cash, some of them drifters and most likely not your best upstanding citizens, if you get my drift. As you can see my Santa experience is somewhat different from here. Every time I see a little boy or girl being forced screaming and crying onto some fat Santa’s lap at the mall I recall those days when we hunted them down.”
“Maybe you should go see somebody about this my friend,” Camp said, “this sounds like some nasty childhood trauma you’re dealing with. Santa psychosis. I can’t imagine. I’ll buy you a beer for that story. I’ll never look at Santa the same way. You managed to completely destroy a picture of perfect bliss and benign good will and replace it with what you call that guy? Krampus?”
We both solemnly looked at the jolly red Santa pulled by a slew of cartoon reindeer across the pub’s front window. I do prefer the local version of the tubby gift bearing Santa sliding down a chimney for a welcome of warm milk or a beer to the one I grew up with. Vicky brought us two foaming mugs and said: “These are on the house boys, compliments from Santa to our regular guests.”
I have friends who live in Switzerland and they tell me the same thing about the Psycho Santa. Amazing how different countries have different perspectives.