December 25th, 2012 - Krampus

The final day! And of course, I’ve sort of saved the best for last here. Sure you’re all familiar with the story of Santa Claus, but what about his darker companion? Today I’ll be looking at a punishment worse than coal: Krampus!

So first, a bit of a description. Though Krampus’ appearance sometimes varies, illustrations of him generally all have the same defining characteristics; a hairy body of dark color, demonic appearance, and horns and legs like that of a goat. Sort of like a Satyr? He often sticks his tongue out, but hey, at least he’s not giving anyone raspberries. Krampus often carries chains, which is said to symbolize the binding of Satan. And just for a bit of festive flair, he sometimes puts little bells on them! (I think I’ll be wary of jingle bells for at least a week now…) But in his other hand, he’s almost always carrying a branch of birch or maybe a whip in order to swat children with. On his back, he carries a washtub, basket, or some other container which he uses to carry off evil children. Where are these kids headed, you ask? Well, usually straight to hell, (Can you say “To hell in a hand basket”?) a river so that they might be drowned, or maybe even straight to his belly.

Krampus’ job is basically that; to punish bad children during the holiday season, as opposed to Santa Claus, who gives out gifts to the well-behaved ones. I guess Old Saint Nick wants someone to do his dirty work for him. Krampus is well known in more Alpine countries (though he is usually associated with German folklore), where on the night of December 5th, (The night before St. Nicholas’ feast day) he is celebrated. How so? Well if you were celebrating this particular holiday, called Krampusnacht, you might dress up as a wild animal or demon, parading the streets, or if you chose not to engage in such tomfoolery, you might offer those who are a bit of liquor, which will no doubt get them acting crazier. In fact, in some traditions, the costume-wearing was considered a coming-of-age thing, where the young man in question would be sent off to the forest/woods with just a sack, and come back dressed as Krampus. Or so it is believed. I’m fairly certain the practice is no longer being continued. But in places like Styria, in Europe, a much calmer tradition is practiced, in which bundles of birch twigs are sometimes displayed year-round around the household, serving as a painful reminder to any misbehaving child that Krampus is out there, waiting.

Haven’t had enough Krampus cheer to go around? Well then, you might considered getting yourself, your friends, and loved ones a Krampuskarten; a holiday greeting card featuring the holiday devil! Said to have been exchanged since the 1800s, these cards often feature rhymes and poems that are silly in nature, as well as friendly, “Gruß vom Krampus”, which means, “Greetings from the Krampus”!…I sort of really want one of these cards now.

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