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In Austria, the night before St. Nicholas appears, a horned creature called Krampus runs around town looking for bad children. This is believed to be one of those little leftovers from pre-Christian times.

Far away, on the other side of the Eurasian continent, in northern Japan, a horned creature called Namahage visits homes asking for lazy people the night before New Year's.

The creatures themselves are very similar. Horns, big, shaggy hair, red faces. They both visit homes and warn people about bad behavior. But the similarity doesn't stop there. The next day, the world is happy and bright and treats arrive. In Japan, New Year's Day is when the year god arrives, and children receive treats and special New Year allowances.

If these traditions share the same roots, how old could they be? 400 years? 4,000? 40,000? As individuals, we don't even know what our great grand parents were like. But as a group, memories persist.

Namahage, Santa and Krampus

© 2006 Mieko Mochizuki Swartz. All rights reserved.