The Christmas season is officially upon us! Although winter is historically a time to slow down and enjoy the coziness of the season. But modern humans don’t do that! This is the rush and crunch before Christmas! Elves are on shelves, children are being sternly warned about good behavior, and mom and dad are frazzled. Toys are on layaway, stockings must be stuffed, gifts for the family still need to be bought, and we can’t forget cookies and milk for the big guy. Adults work so hard to keep the magic of the season alive for children. But once upon a time, Santa had a helper named Krampus and he was far scarier than any elf on the shelf or threat of coal!
The pre-Christian Alpine regions of Europe are rich in folkloric traditions with themes from Germanic, Gaulish,Slavic, and Raetian cultures. Celebrations involving Krampus date back to at least the 6th or 7th century CE. Krampus is a horned figure who accompanies Santa during the Christmas season. Modern depictions are very similar to the Christian concept of the devil. He frightens children who misbehave. Unlike the modern December 25th, the pair visited children on December 5th. Santa would reward children with small gifts, but Krampus would punish naughty children by spanking them with rods of birch wood.
Anthropologists believe that Krampus was part of early Pagan rituals celebrating the Winter Solstice of December 21st. Fun fact, the Church chose to celebrate Christmas on December 25th as it aligned with the Pagan solstice rituals, in order to draw in more new Christians. Nordic traditions clam Krampus is the son of Hel, the god of the underworld. Krampus would disperse the ghosts of winter. But as Christianity took hold, he became the antithesis of Santa. As related previously, Santa and Krampus would appear on December 5th also called Krampusnacht; “Krampus Night.” In some legends rather than spank naughty children, Krampus would either eat them or carry them away to the underworld. While Krampus may be by far the scariest, Europe has a long tradition of Santa counterparts such as Belsnickle and Knecht Ruprecht who dole out punishment to naughty children.
With the boom in the postcard industry in the 1890’s Krampus gained new popularity. Holiday cards featuring Krampus were the opposite of warm and fuzzy. The cards often depicted Krampus stuffing a frightened child into his bag or showing him about to spank a child. Others showed children being led away in chains by Krampus or carrying them away in a basket affixed to his back.
The 2016 film Krampus brought this character to American audiences. It represents a not so loving family who become punished by Krampus. I won’t give away any spoilers. In Alpine Europe, the Krampus run and Krampus parade is taking hold. Young men from town dress up as Krampus and march through the streets. Like in ancient Pagan traditions the ritual is meant to dispel winter’s ghosts. The dress in furs and scary masks.
Krampus Festivals are now making their way to the US. The festival is meant to be fun. Besides banishing ghosts of winter, like many cultures around the world, the participants are meant to frighten children. All while parents have a good-natured chuckle. Many cultures around the world have traditions of god-like entities whose sole purpose is to frighten children into being good. This is more than a be good or else concept. They represent a manifestation of personal demons such as anger, greed, and hard heartedness. They serve as a warning to these children to not let the evils of the world affect them.
Thanks for reading!