By Morgan Gates
'Tis the Christmas season, and all are scurrying about finishing up their shopping and having Holiday get-togethers and such, so the postings have been a bit lean here lately, our apologies! So here is a little tidbit, for you, a bit out on the edge of our usual genre perhaps, but interesting none the less.
The most famous Christmas Ghost story is, of course, Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol" – You know it well, Scrooge and the Ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future! But did you know that Christmas was once as associated with Ghost Stories as Halloween? (See the link to the article in Smithsonian Magazine below)
The tradition long predates Dickens it seems, but the Puritans did not much like it so it never really "crossed the pond" so to speak. Dickens' work gave Christmastide ghost story a brief burst of life in the new world in the 19th century, but eventually, it was the Halloween tradition brought west by Scottish immigrants that became the scary holiday!
But I digress! Yes, Christmas was once a time of Peace on Earth, goodwill toward man and Fear of Hell and damnation! Almost lost among the black Friday sales and Jolly old elves and reindeer, is Santa’s dark alter ego, Krampus! Almost lost, until Hollywood disinterred him a couple of years ago that is, the Krampus story originates in alpine regions of German and Austria. The figure is somewhat demonic in appearance, often described as a smallish hunched over figure with horns. He would deliver bundles of birch branches to beat bad children with and a sack or pack in which he would carry particularly bad children off to never be seen again! Que the shivers!
Ok, so what does this have to do with Vicksburg? Well, there were many immigrants from or descendants of immigrants from these Germanic lands in the south. When I was growing up, I was taught not that Santa brought misbehaving children "switches" not lumps of coal! Finally, a story from my father's childhood! When he was a child he was taught that a "boogeyman" called "Sack-a-Billy" traveled all around the land and he would put particularly terrible little children in a sack he carried over his shoulder and carry them off, and they would never be seen again! Sack-a Billy was described as a stooped shouldered old man who walked the railroad tracks from town to town! Sound familiar?
One, day in a fit of anger my father – just a child at the time – set out to run away from home, and burst out the front door at a run! The Vicksburg Street on which he lived has a railroad track running right alongside it. As luck would have it, at that particular moment a stooped over old man with a sack over his shoulder was walking by his house! Well, you can imagine how quickly he reversed course and decided running away was not such a good idea!
Of course, my 6 or 7-year future father had not actually encountered a supernatural being, for this was during the 1930's when many men down on their luck traveled the railroads as Hobos. When my father was alive, we laughed over this story many a time, but it was just recently that realized that in a way he had an encounter with a Vicksburg Mississippi incarnation of Krampus!
He’s making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out who's naughty or nice, Krampus is coming to get you tonight!