Krampus from Tomorrow to Today
Decorated trees, candy canes, and Santa Claus have all become popular symbols of Christmas and the holiday season. Goodwill and peace to mankind have often been associated to this wintery time of year, but this hasn’t always been the case. In the Pre-Christian Austro-Bavarian Alpine regions, a devilish beast known as Krampus terrorized and punished children who misbehaved during December. Krampus has been depicted in many ways throughout various regions but his most common appearance is as a brown or black hairy animalistic creature with large horns, cloven feet like a goat and a long pointed tongue that is often sticking out.
Krampusnacht: Krampus Comes to Town
Krampus is even thought to be one of the inspirations behind the Christian Devil, carrying around chains or even a sack thought to be used for eating, drowning or taking children down to hell. His chains sometimes have bells of various sizes attached to them and he is sometimes shown carrying bundles of birch branches or a whip, used for swatting children.
In modern times, in various places throughout Europe, Krampus is thought to accompany Saint Nicolas, who is responsible for rewarding all the good children with presents, while Krampus is responsible for the bad children, handing out punishment in the form of coal. This happens on December 6th, the feast of Saint Nicolas, every year. On the 5th, the eve of the feast known as Krampusnacht, the hairy devilish beast walks the streets, sometimes alone or with Saint Nicolas, visiting homes and businesses with his coal.
The Perchta Connection to Krampus
Meanwhile, the adults celebrate with Krampuslauf, an alcohol fueled celebration where people dress as Krampus and drink schnapps, a potent distilled fruit brandy, in honor of Krampus. Sometimes Perchta is also included in this celebration.
Perchta is a Goddess known as Guardian of the Beasts during the 12 days of Christmas, or the days between the Winter Solstice and January 6. She could appear beautiful bringing wealth and luck to people or she could appear ugly, with fangs, tusks and a horse tail, driving out bad spirits wherever she went. Men even dressed like her during times when they wanted to ward against or drive out demons and ghosts.
Modern Depictions of Krampus
Since the 1800s Krampus greeting cards are exchanged during the winter season and often have funny poems with messages from Krampus. In modern times the terrifying images of Krampus have been toned down to be cuter and a little more tourist-friendly although the pictures still depict him looming over children and in some more sexualized versions, chasing buxom women.
Krampus is now slowly making his presence known in North American culture through appearances in shows like American Dad, The League and through the Universal Pictures film, Krampus. This ancient Pre-Christian, mythic beast has begun to become popularized beyond Europe showing us that some myths never die, but only rebirth themselves in the imagination of humanity across time.
So this holiday season, when you give or receive your greeting cards, lend a thought to Krampus and the other wondrous and bizarre traditions from around the world. Happy Holidays!