December 14, 2017

Putting a Krampus in your Christmas

Luka Dakskobler / Xinhua Press / Corbis

Luka Dakskobler / Xinhua Press / Corbis

In the benign stories of “Santa” most of us were told, the jolly old elf knew who was “naughty or nice.” He checked his list (twice) and gave gifts to the good children, and, tradition says, a lump of coal in the stockings of children who had been bad. Bummer on Christmas morning, but hey, you can get over it by mealtime.

If you’re going to punish delinquent children, why not do it right?

Enter Krampus, the anti-Santa and beast of legend who is part of a centuries-old Christmas tradition in Germany, where celebrations begin in early December.

Tomorrow night (Dec. 5) is Krampusnacht, the eve before St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6), when German children check the shoes they’ve left by the door to discover their gifts. An article by Tanya Basu in National Geographic explains:

Krampus, whose name is derived from the German word krampen, meaning claw, is said to be the son of Hel in Norse mythology. The legendary beast also shares characteristics with other scary, demonic creatures in Greek mythology, including satyrs and fauns.

…Krampus was created as a counterpart to kindly St. Nicholas, who rewarded children with sweets. Krampus, in contrast, would swat “wicked” children and take them away to his lair.

krampus26n-9-webIn modern celebrations in Austria, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic, drunken men dressed in demonic beast costumes take over the streets for a Krampuslauf — a Krampus Run — when these “devils” chase people through the streets, stopping along the way to scare the children straight.

“He’s awful nice to have around, especially if you have a really nasty kid who needs discipline,” says Matt Manochio, whose novel “The Dark Servant” centers on Krampus exacting punishment on errant teenagers. “You’re not threatened by getting coal in your stocking? How about being kidnapped by a hairy, cloven-hoofed devil and being, beaten to a pulp, eaten or drowned? Now be good!”

In fact, it’s so popular that in some Austrian villages they’ve had to make special efforts to educate Syrian and Iraqi refugees who have come to live among them, lest they and their children be unduly frightened by the practice. NBC reports:

Fearing the spectacle would be misunderstood, community representatives last week visited the 22 migrants — including 12 children — who have been housed in the Alpine village since the end of October.

They were shown the frightening masks and given insight into the event’s history with the help of an Arabic translator. The verdict? The newcomers had “lots of fun,” according to social worker Nicole Kranebitter.

The migrants “will now know what to expect when St. Nicholas and the Krampus creatures knock on their door,” Kranebitter added.

Krampus is becoming the new rage in various places around the world, including the U.S. This week, a new movie called Krampus is opening, basing its story on the legend and a TV show just had a Krampus-themed episode. There are reports of people holding Krampus parties. National Geographic has published a book in German about the devilish Christmas beast.  In Austria, they have begun to cash in on the phenomenon by marketing and selling chocolates, figurines, and collectible horns of the dark monster. This has led to complaints about the commercialization of Krampus, the idea of which I find delightful. War on Krampus! War on Krampus!

However, already I can hear the fundamentalists and evangelicals shouting “demonic” and urging with utmost seriousness that people separate themselves from the evil and corrupting influence of the ungodly culture. I can also see the mainliners defending the practice and even instituting it to a point within their congregations, pointing to oh so serious academic studies about how people need to deal with evil in an embodied fashion.

I’m not sure about what I think of the Krampus tradition, but at the very least one might admire the Europeans’ willingness to include the presence of actual evil in their Christmas celebrations and to portray it as something truly horrific and terrifying — then find a way to make sport of it.

Maybe we could all stand putting a little Krampus in our Christmas.

Comments

  1. Possibly all good fun for the well-adjusted and loved child, but for a child experiencing abuse from adults, nothing but a nightmare compounding and reinforcing their already horrific real-life experience. The kind of thing an abusive parent would use in an abusive way. I think I give the thumbs down for this particular cultural tradition.

    • Personally, when I was a child Santa himself was frightening to me; Krampus would’ve induced PTSO.

      • PTSD

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Same here.
        As a kid, I was TERRIFIED of Santa. No known explanation. Didn’t ease off until I was in my teens. Even today at age 60 I’m still a little uneasy, but nothing I can’t handle.

      • I would have loved Krampus as a child. Then again, I was a fairly demented little bugger. As far back as I can remember, I have been attracted to scary stories and images. My parents and my siblings were definitely not into scary stuff — so I’m not sure where that comes from. Got the devil in me, I guess.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Sure your real last name isn’t “Addams”?

          • One of my favorite TV shows as a kid. And a Saturday afternoon of old monster movies — much better than the cartoons in the morning. I’ll take giant leeches from Planet X over Sponge Bob any day.

        • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

          Agree completely. My favorite holiday was always halloween, and I think I would have loved Krampus. To each his own.

    • I was thinking the same thing, Robert. The pictures of the Krampus costumes I’ve seen are truly frightening and I can hardly imagine how scared I would have been as a child.

    • In the neighborhood where I grew up, our neighbors allowed their house to be used as a location for the slasher film “Silent Night, Deadly Night”.

      The kids in the nieghborhood did not look forward to Santa coming down the chimney after that.

  2. Maybe we could all stand putting a little Krampus in our Christmas.

    For those of us who indulge in a certain hobby… I have you covered.

  3. I work with Krampus so I’ll pass on this celebration…

  4. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    Krampus sounds like great fun; it would add some leavening to the American Holiday Season, which tends to run towards Normal Rockwell extremes.

    Last night was our cities Christmas Tree Lighting and Shop Hop. Good fun, and *top-notch* people watching [and packed to the gills this year]. A Krampus running about roaring at people would have been good sport – seems the perfect combination with tipsy oldsters who with the freedom and candor that comes with old age are already hilarious.

    As I child I found mascots and clowns to be frightening; and monsters no so much. Maybe that is just me. Probably relates to the Uncanny Valley. The more genuinely hideous the monster the more fictional it sometimes feels.

  5. If it meets a need in the culture at large it will slowly take root regardless of its strongest sanction and despite all protestation. That’s how these things work.

    • Just to elaborate on my earlier point, I think myths are born. They come from the artists in the culture and are held as an expression of our collective story; our joys and our fears. If we are overweighted in one direction, as in we are no longer concious of the imminent danger of evil, the myth is born, and kept, to reawaken us to the reality that is staring us in the face. In our current situation I’m not sure we are in need of that reminder with the omnipresent evil that assaults our senses daily. On the other hand, the possibility that the myth represents a refuge in the form of a controllable, containable reality is also there. It is something we can hold in our hands and talk about and scare ourselves with and then put away. It is not ISIS and it is not mass murder in our churches, offices and streets. In that sense it takes the overwhelming power of the evil away and gives us hope for refuge. Yes evil is real and yes it can harm us but in the end, year after year the myth reinforces, the good prevails because we always come out the other side. Whether or not a story like this gains traction is dependent upon what is happening in the collective American soul and any clamour from the fringe will have little or no effect. It simply comes down to whether or not we need it.
      Of course if it’s marketable it could be foisted upon us by some well connected, Madison Avenue types with a yen for that action, regardless of need, changing the equation altogether. Then it could take hold and hang around for a time as a purely monetary reality, shallow and lifeless, reflecting nothing. Any number of possibilities I suppose.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        On the other hand, the possibility that the myth represents a refuge in the form of a controllable, containable reality is also there. It is something we can hold in our hands and talk about and scare ourselves with and then put away.

        It’s the Dragon, distanced off in its magical land.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Yes evil is real and yes it can harm us but in the end, year after year the myth reinforces, the good prevails because we always come out the other side.

        Was it Chesterton or Lewis who said “The child already knows there are Dragons. Fairy tales teach the child that the Dragon can be slain”?

        Of course if it’s marketable it could be foisted upon us by some well connected, Madison Avenue types with a yen for that action, regardless of need, changing the equation altogether.

        Like Zombies (“BRAIINS!”) and Vampires (sparkle sparkle).

  6. I have a good friend who introduced me to the Krampus legend a year or two ago. He had the great idea of making and marketing a Krampus in the Corner, as a more sobering alternative to the Elf on the Shelf. Alas, he has done nothing with this, so if one of you entrepreneurial types wants to run with the idea, feel free.

  7. David Denis says:

    I wouldn’t mind it much if St. Nick showed up, staging something like a professional wrestling smackdown, and positively beats the krap out of the krampus. That might be a Krampus celebration I could get into.

  8. The way that God is sometimes portrayed, he seems a hell of a lot more like Krampus than St Nick. Gleefully whisking evil children and wayward teens away to his lair for torture and beatings, giving them their just deserts.

    Thank God for the advent journey towards the subversion of a Krampus-like god.

  9. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Both my writing partners are Pennsylvania Dutch. According to them, PA Dutch Xmas tradition has a kind of Krampus figure, but the name and appearance are very different. (Local variation in Old Country mythology?)

    However, he still comes as a tag team with St Nick.

    All I can say is people can be weird.

    However, already I can hear the fundamentalists and evangelicals shouting “demonic” and urging with utmost seriousness that people separate themselves from the evil and corrupting influence of the ungodly culture.

    Just as they did with DEMONIC D&D, DEMONIC Cabbage Patch Dolls, and DEMONIC My Little Pony.

    How would all these Real True Christian Culture Warriors react if they ever ran into a REAL demon, i.e. an Angelic being who’s a stone Sociopath? Given how in Christian tradition the Devil’s number-one weapon is Deception (and successful Sociopaths are masters of camouflage), they’d probably fall completely for the Angel of Light act.

    • Yes the adversary doesn’t make it this easy, does he? It doesn’t take much to discern Krampus is the boogeyman.

    • Using the Bible with it’s “angel of light” stuff doesn’t get you very far with most people. If it looks evil it must be evil, and if it looks good it must be good. I tried that many times to explain things, even to the point of arguing Screwtape is a Christian book because CS Lewis wrote it and it’s written as satire against demons. But, nope. Appearance of evil and ugliness in contrast to whatever is pure, lovely, and true.

      Now think on these things.

    • HUG, I am PA Dutch and have never, ever heard of anything remotely resembling Krampus from the old folks in my famiky (no longer on this planet), nor in any local xmas celebrstions or customs.

      It sounds like whatever they’re talking about is a holdover in some of the parts of PA Dutch country thst are closer to Phila. thsn where i was born, raised, and now live after many years away. But i slso have to say that i have never run across anything like this in eithe Phila. or Lancaster County, so… either this is a very-dimly remembered custom that’s no longer a thing, or else some folks are trying to *make* it a thing and claim thst it’s authentically PA Dutch, or both.

      That there could be a connection i don’t deny, since the Mennonites and Amish who came to PA originated in Switzerland, but I’m very skeptical about this. I also think a lot of Krampus costumes are mainly inspired by horror movies, not by the actual legend of Krampus itself.

    • In the Netherlands, there’s Black Peter, which is pretty racist, but he’s a far more benign figure than the current iterations of Krampus. He comes with St. Nicholas, too.

    • HUG, msybe your writing partners were talking about Pelznickel, aka Belsnickel and a few other varisnt dpellings?
      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belsnickel

      I’ve never seenthis guy, but he does appear to be msking a resurgence in PA – and he comes from the parts of Germsny that many of us “fancy” (Lutheran, Catholic) Dutch are from, originally.

      Definitely a thing, but Krampus? Not in these parts as yet.

  10. Not to be a Krampus or a Scrooge or a curmudgeon, but I just don’t get this post. I thought Internet Monk was to focus us on Jesus-shaped spirituality, not Krampus-shaped spirituality.

    • Rick, just exploring some of the interesting ways people celebrate the Christmas season.

      As I was writing, I kept thinking how I might work the story of Herod and the Holy Innocents into it. The Advent/Christmas story is actually filled with quite a lot of darkness, some of it quite scary. Last week’s gospel was from Luke 21 and included this passage:

      “20 When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21 Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it, and those out in the country must not enter it; 22 for these are days of vengeance, as a fulfillment of all that is written. 23 Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people; 24 they will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

      Our pastor remarked in his sermon that we are not used to hearing about all this warfare and distress at Christmas time, but that this was exactly the world that Jesus came to then, and the same world into which he comes today.

      At least the Krampus tradition provides a kind of black backdrop against which the light of God’s gracious visitation may shine.

      Hope that helps.

      • Thanks for clarification. Reminds me of the line, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” The table isn’t set in some secluded, safe place; the sheep eat in pastures surrounded by dangers.

        • Indeed.

          I ordered the Psalm 23 book you mentioned written by a shepherd. Looking forward to reading it. Thanks for the recommendation.

          • I think you’ll like it. Let me know. I’m going to lead our church’s Saturday morning men’s group through it starting in January.

        • And there is the claim that Herod killed all those children. The Christmas stories just breeze right over that couple of sentences; but this is soldiers breaking into homes, ripping children from their beds or their mothers arm, clubbing the father if he got in the way, and then murdering the child.

          Merry Christmas! God Bless Yea Merry Gentleman! Oh, wait, watch where you walk, there is entrails and blood everywhere.

          • Christiane says:

            ADAM . . . the Church considers those slain innocents as the very ‘first’ Christian martyrs; so they are remembered as especially dear in that regard

          • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

            Although to be fair, Crossan points out that if one takes the most extremely high population estimate of the area, factors in the most extremely high fertility rate, and assumes the most extremely low mortality rate, we are still only talking about 30 infants. Horrific no matter the number, but not something that would even be likely to make the history books.

          • Merry Christmas! God Bless Yea Merry Gentleman! Oh, wait, watch where you walk, there is entrails and blood everywhere.

            So metal.

          • Adam, are you familiar with the Coventry Carol? It comes from the mystery plays staged by the guilds in Coventry, England, and is rarely sung in its entirety, since it’s about the holy innocents. People lift the 1st verse out of context and make it a lullaby for the Christ child, when in fact it’s a lament for dead children.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Rick, just exploring some of the interesting ways people celebrate the Christmas season.

        “Because people are people, and the world is full of tricks and twistiness yet undreamed of.”
        — one of The Whole Earth Catalogs

    • petrushka1611 says:

      Rick Ro., the post caught me by surprise, but I think it’s one of the more interesting things I’ve read on here lately. Very out-of-left-field, but I can live with that.

  11. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    This is getting to be One Fun Thread.

  12. Dana Ames says:

    Interesting that Krampus as son of the god Hel came from Germanic/Norse mythology. Other confusing ideas from the same source also infiltrated western Christianity and first took hold in the same geographical area.

    There is no Krampus figure in the Christian East. There was enough evil and tragedy found in life in those days, as noted above; such a figure was not needed. St Nicholas himself was imprisoned and tortured during the last and most widespread persecution of Christians under Diocletian. He is the patron of travelers, rather than St Christopher (who is also on our calendar), because he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and saved the vessel in which he was traveling from shipwreck, and also prayed for the deliverance of other ships; so he’s also the main patron of sailors. At the Council of Nicea, he got so mad at what Arius was expounding that he slapped Arius’ face; since he was a bishop, that was a grave no-no, and he was dismissed from the council until he apologized. (Even this great saint was not “perfect”… but that’s not the point of sainthood…)

    But he was known for doing all kinds of good from his love for Jesus, especially for poor people and children. Many miracles are attributed to his intercession, both while he lived on earth and since his death. He is one of the most beloved Orthodox saints; of all the Orthodox churches named for saints, I have heard that there are more for St Nicholas than any other. His relics are still around, but not in the church in Myra, where he was bishop, at the extreme south-western point of today’s Turkey, where they lay for +700 years. Some sailors from Bari, on the heel of Italy’s boot, stole his bones, and they are entombed in Bari in a very beautiful church to this day.

    All anyone could want to know about St Nicholas can be found here:
    http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/home/

    Dana

    • Interesting

    • I bet Krampus is very spevific to southern Getmany snd the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Also that his origins were as a pre-xtian nature spirit, not as a demonic presence at all.

      Though i did once buy a copy of the Oxford book of Swiss fairy tales to give to a child – decided agajnst it after reading parts of it. There were some pretty fearsome nature spirits in it; scary stuff for a small kid. Otoh, i would be willing to bet that some of these stories are related to avalanches and landslides, which can easily wipe out a small village. Those alpine valleys are still isolated places, andmi can see why some superstitions would hang on there.

  13. Christiane says:

    I taught for many years in the inner city . . . no need for Krampas there . . . in that environment, the monsters are real and some among our students bore the scars

    and yet, in the midst of all that poverty, when it came time for students and faculty to contribute food for Christmas baskets, our school was among the most generous, even in a city where there were gated communities and country clubs

    . . . I always thought our students KNEW what it meant not to have much at Christmas, and so they gave more generously because they understood there was a real need
    . . . just one of the ‘lessons’ these dear children taught me

  14. Randy Thompson says:

    Since it’s important that we celebrate Christmas properly, I need to ask: If we leave milk and cookies out for Santa, what do we leave out for the Krampus when he comes? Will he be placated by milk and cookies, or do we need to leave out an unruly child? Just wondering. It’s important that we get these things right. . .

  15. Growing up in a Dutch enclave in Western Michigan, we had our own Krampus – Black Pete!

    He was St. Nicholas’ “Moorish” servant, who was in charge of children who couldn’t repeat their catechisms. The St. Nicholas material had him as a bandit to whom St. Nicholas showed mercy, but who never quite the hang of it himself. In gratitude towards the saint, he accompanied him everywhere, but Sinterklaas asked Zwarte Piet if the child in question was naughty or nice, Pete always responded that the child was incorrigibly bad and needed a a good dose of discipline, at which point, Sinterklaas always interceded and the child got an apple or an orange, later a Hershey bar.

    Black Pete’s antics were so racist they made Amos ‘n’ Andy look like the Cosby Show. I would be surprised if they’re still doing him.

    • Oh, gosh that’s bizarrely funny!

    • Black Pete sounds like someone dreamed up by Archie Bunker.

    • petrushka1611 says:

      Black Peter is still a thing in the Netherlands — I saw a few articles about it last year, which was the first I’d heard of it.

      This is all apparently unrelated to the Grateful Dead’s Black Peter.

  16. Scanning images of the Krampus on Google Images, I see that he’s frequently depicted with a monstrously long tongue, one long enough to make Gene Simmons envious. Disturbing.

  17. No Saturday Ramblings posted yet. Did Krampus put a crampus on them?

  18. Put THAT on your coffee cup!

  19. The American version: Trumpus.