I’ve mentioned Krampus in passing, several times, but as his popularity has grown in American pop culture has grown over the past few years (want to smell like Krampus? Because you can. No, really…you can buy Krampus themed perfume) maybe it’s time he gets his own standalone entry.
It seems that European cultures are much more willing to play up the ‘bad’ side of Christmas-in America, at least, while there’s this veiled threat against misbehaving children the end result is pretty benign on the whole. The worst that can happen is that you don’t make it onto the ‘nice’ list and therefore don’t get presents. I suppose in a culture that is as commercially driven as my own, not being gifted-especially as a child-is pretty traumatic.
I suppose as a prior warning, if you click any of the links provided in the end of this entry, you might see vintage images of children being physically punished. It’s not horribly graphic, but if you don’t want to see these things you might want to avoid clicking those links.
You might also want to stop reading now, since that’s sort of the point of Krampus-otherwise known currently as the Christmas demon.
Krampus, like most folkloric figures, has a slight range of appearances, ranging from the Baphomet inspired cloven hooves and horns to a surly gentleman in black, to a gentleman in black who may be slightly furrier than normal. He comes holding some form of weapon for physical punishment (either rusty chains or whips) and a basket or other holding device. It should be noted however that there are other interpretations of the items he holds including the chains marking the binding of the devil by the Christian Church (Wikipedia has a full paragraph on the symbolism of his items; article is linked below.)
Krampus has one specific job: to accompany Santa Clause or St. Nicholas and heavily punish misbehaving children. If you’re lucky he’ll just beat you…if you’re not so lucky he’ll beat you and drag you into hell. This is not a minor folkloric, throw away concept either-December features Krampusnacht, held the night before St. Nicholas’ Day. Krampusnacht features dancing, singing, drinking, mummery, parades, and other carnival like events to ring in Krampus’ return.
Krampus even had his own Christmas cards, often with slightly more adult tones than you would think.
As the Santa Clause image began to filter into American culture, the Krampus image with its potential ties back to Pagan solstice rituals (National Geographic claims that Krampus is the son of Hel) and emphasis on punishment lost favor and was never really picked up in the States outside of regional traditions. While the image also never died out fully in Europe, Krampus is now slowly making a re-emergence both Europe and the States with increasing numbers of Krampus parades, the reintroduction of Krampus cards, and the reintroduction of the image back into popular culture.
However, the States would not be the only culture to reject Krampus. The Austrian government took an unfavorable view on Krampusnacht and banned the practice by law in 1934. In the 1950s they distributed pamphlets warning against the evils of Krampus. This was most likely was a reaction to political thought in that era than the actual image, however. Further, perhaps understandably, the Catholic church wasn’t exactly fond of him either.
(As an aside, while Buffalo hosts a Santacon this weekend-and I would very much like to see it-several cities hold a challenger Krampuscon. I’m assuming that if Santacon is drinking and collecting charity gifts-which it is in Buffalo- then Krampuscon must be drinking and brooding.)