Christmas is traditionally a time of celebration. There is delicious food, intimate gatherings of family and friends and all around good cheer. Promises of Santa with his sack full of presents send shivers of excitement through children around the world. While reminders for our children to “be good, for goodness sake” appear in forms ranging from gentle hints to be good, lest you get coal in your stocking; to the “Elf on the Shelf”, where parents are required to make messes (and clean them up!) and position this creepy little spy so that he (or she!) can report back to the jovial fat man; to the alternative, “The Christmas Angel”, who encourages your child to perform a good deed on each Advent day, children in Europe’s Alpine region are kept in line, trembling with fear, at the mere mention of Krampus. Krampus, derived from the old German word for “claw”, stretches back to pre-Christian Germanic traditions, as early as the 1600’s. Krampus, a towering, hairy beast with a pointed, long, Gene Simmons-esque tongue, goat horns and cloven feet, sports a wooden basket on his back filled with menacingly pointy switches which he uses to whip naughty children… if he doesn’t just decide to shackle and toss them into his basket to devour later or cart off to the fiery pits of Hell! Variations of his image include one each a cloven foot and a human foot, a sack instead of a wooden basket and bloody, rusty chains. Austrian governments discouraged the Krampus tradition in the early 20th century, in the aftermath of the 1934 Austrian Civil War. Although prohibited by the Dollfuss Regime under the Fatherhood Front and the Christian Social Party, Krampusnacht (Krampus Night) persisted and, by the end of the 20th century, a resurgence of these celebrations occurred and still goes strong today. Unlike our Western traditions of Santa delivering sacks full of goodies in the early morning of December 25th, the European Santa arrives in the wee hours of the morning on December 6th. This is to commemorate the 4th century saint and Greek Bishop of Myra, Saint Nicholas (15 March 270 – 6 December 343), also referred to as Nikolaos of Myra, who had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him. In addition to this European tradition, the modern Saint Nick is only responsible for bringing love and joy to the hearts and souls of children, never doling out punishments to the naughty. He delegates that unpleasantness to Krampus, his child hungry right-hand man… er, devil, who is said to either tag along with Old St. Nick or precede him on December 5th. Areas of Austria where the Krampus folklore and tradition still hold fast, the eve of December 5th brings processions of young men donning frightening Krampus costumes, getting their jollies scaring children and adults alike. Many areas have, however, banned these celebrations for fear of traumatizing the children.
Popular in more urban areas, like Salzburg, a toned-down, more tourist-friendly interpretation of Krampus finds him more humorous than fearsome. A good many of these festivities occur anywhere from the end of November to early December. An article titled “Krampus: Saint Nicholas’ Dark Companion” appears on website The Atlantic, depicting beautiful, pictorially chronicled Krampus festivities in Austria and northern Italy. Some Germanic communities in the northeastern United States have preserved the Krampus tradition and, though rare, North American Krampus celebrations are on the rise. Quimby’s in Chicago, IL has a photo op with Krampus this Friday, December 6th. A one day event this Saturday, December 7th, in Rochester, NY invites you to have “Breakfast with Krampus”. Your breakfast is free if Krampus approves of your new, unwrapped toy for charity! Krampusfest in Los Angeles, CA is a first-year multi-venue event running from December 5th to the 21st. Some festivities include a Krampus art show, performances, music and street appearances by LA’s first Krampus Troupe. Krampus is no stranger to popular culture. A 2012 episode of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated – “Wrath of the Krampus” – has the beast terrorizing children. A Season 8 episode of American Dad, unaired due to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December of last year, would have introduced a Krampus character. Krampus: The Yule Lord is a beautifully illustrated 2012 dark fantasy novel by Atlanta’s own Gerald Brom, with Krampus as protagonist and Santa Claus as antagonist. In a 2010 winter holiday edition, Grimm Fairy Tales featured him, which has spawned a new series, KRAMPUS!. The Colbert Report aired a segment about Krampus and the War on Christmas called “The Blitzkrieg on Grinchitude – Hallmark & Krampus” in its 9 December 2009 episode. In a surprising twist, the 1997 novel The Claus Effect by David Nickel and Karl Schroeder, the Krampus and Santa Claus both appear, except that the Krampus is on the side of good, and Santa is a deranged monster who hates children and believes he is doing evil by bringing them gifts they don’t want. Most people I know prefer to jump, feet first, into the bright holiday cheer with everything nauseatingly sweet. With one foot in the shadows, my fascination with fear keeps me aware of the sinister agents, lurking in the darkest of corners. So, while I do enjoy the pretty lights and decorated trees – which, by the way, is also a pagan ritual – I like a little darkness during this holiday season. Krampus traditions are definitely for you if your inner Scrooge squealed with delight while reading about the history of this pre-Christian punisher. If you, like me, enjoy a little Christmas (Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule or Ramadan) with your ‘horrorday’ celebrations, there are plenty of movies, books and tv shows to satiate your inner monster. From Black Christmas (1974 and 2006) to The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), there is something for everyone! So, kiddies, remember: “be good, for goodness sake” or you just might find a demonic beast hiding in the shadows… ready to transform you into his next meal. If you live in Atlanta be sure to check out this Krampus event! https://www.facebook.com/events/201146626724366/