Thursday, December 4, 2008

Krampus the Christmas Devil

With the exception of a lyric from the popular Christmas carol, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” the devil is a mostly forgotten character when it comes to the holiday season here in the U.S. Children living in the States grow up knowing that if they are good Santa Claus will bring them toys and gifts. They are also occasionally told that if they are bad Santa will punish them by leaving them coal. But this is rare now a days as it is now considered improper to threaten children with such reprisals. The same is not true in mainland Europe however, where they have forgotten the coal in favor of a far more devilish threat.

In the Old World countries of Austria, Switzerland, Bavaria, Slovenia, western Croatia and Italy children learn that they truly must be “good for goodness sake” because if they are not they will be paid a visit not by St. Nick but by Krampus the Christmas Devil. Originating in 6th-Century Austrian folklore, Krampus is a demon covered in shaggy hair and donning curled horns with a long red tongue. A companion of Santa, Krampus roams the cold, dark nights of December carrying a large sack and sliding down chimneys seeking naughty children to stuff in his bag and beat with his switch.

How did a demon come to be a companion of old St. Nick? The legends are unclear, though as you will notice in many of the pictures and photos Krampus is typically depicted dressed in chains, a symbol that he is under St. Nicolas’ charge. According to one legend those chains are the same ones which once bound St. Peter, thus fueling them with enough divine power to bind the devil himself - or at least one incarnation of him anyway.

In Europe Krampus has become a certified Christmas celebrity, rivaling Santa himself. Every December 5th (the day proceeding the Catholic Church’s feast day in honor of St. Nicolas) children and adults of all ages all over Europe celebrate Krampus in a festival that is equal parts Christmas, Halloween and Mardi Gras. There is food and drink and vendors of all kind. People wait along the streets for the Krampusumzüge or “Krampus-Run”, the main event in which dozens of individuals dressed as Krampuses run through the streets threatening and menacing children as well as occasionally smacking a pretty young girl on the rear with their switches.

Unfortunately Krampus has had little success infiltrating the highly commercialized Christmas of the U.S. with San Francisco being the only city in America to have a (strictly adult oriented) Krampus Day celebration. Still Krampus has occasionally popped up in other places. He appeared in the season one Christmas episode of the popular Adult Swim animated series The Venture Bros. as well as in a G4 Christmas commercial.

So tomorrow don't forget to wish everyone you meet a Very Merry Krampus-mas!!!

Sources and Additional Information:

Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns, and Goblins: An Encyclopedia (1996) by Carol Rose

Christmas Curiosities: Odd, Dark, and Forgotten Christmas (2008) by John Grossman

The Devil in Design: The Krampus Postcards (2004) by Monte Beauchamp

Santa's Not-So-Little Helper (2002) by Clay Risen

Krampus: The Sinister Sidekick of Santa (2008) by R.J. Evans

Krampus: A (Funny) Overview of the Character

San Francisco's Krampus Day Site

All Postcard and Photo Images from Monster Brains

Krampus, as seen on The Venture Bros., from The Mantis Eye Experiment

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