During the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, one popular genre for movies and TV shows was the “road trip” theme. That’s where you get to watch some buddies hang out together in a variety of vehicles, headed for adventure. In the 1940s, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour had a whole series of these films, with destinations from Bali to Zanzibar. Here they are “On the Road…” to Utopia together. (“Utopia” ends up actually being Alaska, as you can guess from the vehicle and scenery.)
And for a while in the 1960s, you could watch Buz and Tod every week in their Corvette sports car, in a perpetual road trip down Route 66, “in search of work, adventure, and themselves.” [Wiki: Route 66]
Well, there is another fictional guy who takes a road trip every year in December. We are used to him traveling these days with his antlered, hoofed, red-nosed friend Rudolph.
Long, long before Rudolph, Santa had yearly travel plans with a different hoofed, horned, and red-nosed friend.
Yes, in Germanic countries at least as far back as the 1800s, in Santa’s earlier incarnation, “St. Nicholas” (who just like he does now, brought gifts to good boys and girls at Christmas time), ol’ Nicholas had an unusual sidekick. That’s him chauffeuring Santa in his sidecar. And here he is again, in a Buddy Portrait.
He is The Krampus. And yes, he pretty much looks like the standard representation of The Devil.
In modern times we tend to connect devilish figures with Halloween. But the devil or devil-like characters used to be much more common icons for other holidays as well–including, surprisingly, the Christmas season.
The Hellish Christmas incarnation of the devil is The Krampus. He usually appears as a hairy, red (or sometimes black), horned, human-like being, often with one human-like foot and one hoof… and an amazingly long tongue that always hangs out.
Instead of St. Nick himself giving lumps of coal to bad little children, The Krampus played “Good Cop/Bad Cop” with Nick. Some legends have it that St. Nick “summoned” the Krampus from Hell to do his annual job, which was to threaten … and even beat … small children with a bundle of sticks if they’d been naughty rather than nice for the year.
The American version of what “Santa” would do about “naughty children” has usually been limited to threatening to tuck a lump of coal instead of candy in their Christmas stocking. But that’s too mild for the Krampus.
Krampus lore had it that, if a child’s reputation for naughtiness was bad enough, they might even be snatched by the Krampus, put into the basket on his back, and either taken to a nearby river and drowned, or perhaps even be taken back to Hell with him. (This whimsical little “tradition,” of course, from the culture that brought us the children-eating witch in Hansel and Gretel.) Note below the “Satan” label on the bumper of this Krampus’ sled, and the “Zur Holle” traffic sign on the left … “To Hell.”
I have an EXTREMELY difficult time understanding how parents could have found “photoshopped” cards like the two above to be “humorous,” but evidently they did!
This curious Christmas “folklore” can be traced to at least as early as the 1600s. By the 1800s, the Krampus was so popular that he had his own Day (December 5, the day before the Feast of St. Nicholas) and his own gig as a greeting card figure. From that time to this, every year before pretty Christmas cards would begin arriving in your mailbox, in certain parts of Europe you could (and still can) expect to get “Gruss vom Krampus”: Greetings from the Krampus cards. Not nearly so pretty.
Not happy with leaving this as a “legend,” in the cultures where the Krampus concept has thrived, men—frequently young, drunk, and rowdy—have long dressed up in outlandish costumes of hairy animal skins and chains, wielding their switches, and roamed the streets of villages and towns on December 5—Krampus Day—terrifying and beating on small children and even adults—especially attractive young women.
The heyday of the Krampus-ian revelry seems to have been the mid-to-late 1800s (most of the pics in this blog entry are from close to the turn of the last century), but the tradition has never died out in some areas of northern Europe.
Over 1200 “Krampus” gather in Schladming, Styria from all over Austria wearing goat-hair costumes and carved masks, carrying bundles of sticks used as switches and swinging cowbells to warn of their approach. They are typically intoxicated males in their teens and early twenties. They roam the streets of this typically quiet town and hit people with their switches. It is not considered wise for young women to go out on this night, as they are popular targets.
And sometimes they still have St. Nicholas with them.
This weird custom is making a “comeback” in many other places … and being picked up even in the USA and adopted as a new “holiday” tradition. (No doubt particularly by rowdy young men wanting to harass pretty young women.) And with modern costume-ry, they have taken it up a notch.
Happy Krampus Day everyone! It’s one of the most wonderful times of the year. “What’s Krampus Day?” you might ask. Well, it’s a lot like Christmas. Just replace peace and joy with fear and loathing, wholesome presents with brutal floggings and jolly Mr. Claus with a gruesome horned incubus named Krampus and you’ve got the general idea.
Here’s how one American visitor to an Alpine town described her experience at a KrampusFest.
The Krampus festival is a traditional Austrian celebration in which the men of the town dress up as horrible demons and chase small children through the streets, beating them with whips.
No, no I’m not kidding.
It started with a “parade”, although I hate to call it that because I like parades. They’re usually pretty fun, you know – floats, beauty queens in convertibles, high school marching bands. This, on the other hand, was terrifying. The demons entered the town, waving torches and rattling their chains (yeah, some of the scary demons were chained to a giant wagon which was being driven by another scary demon). They were all screaming, growling and making all kinds of other demonic noises as they marched past, whipping anyone (me) who happened to be standing too close. This was not a joke or a friendly tap, people. I still have a bruise from the demon’s whip, which is a sentence I hoped I’d never have to say.
When the demons reached the center of the town, they gathered in what was essentially a satanic ritual in which they were “set free” by San Nicolo. Yeah, Santa. Santa Claus unleashed hordes of demons on this town, giving them permission to run free and whip innocent young children and Americans. It was unbelievable. At one point, I watched a large hairy demon chase after a small girl, dive through the air, tackling the girl to the ground where he ripped off her hat and started rubbing her face in the snow. Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of this, as I was too busy dealing with my own evil demon attack.
As scary as the Krampus revelry obviously is for small, gullible children—and as much as it encourages them to avoid naughtiness… at least close to Christmas (or St. Nicholas Day, December 6, the gift-giving day in some countries)—the bottom line is that they will eventually grow out of their fear. Yes, just as children eventually grow out of belief in the saintly, god-like Santa Claus (who “sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake.”) So what is the ultimate result of a “tradition” about a devil-like character who ends up being just a cartoon? The little boys who were once so terrified by the Krampus … want to BE the Krampus themselves. And the fear of being naughty? Don’t be silly … the customs of society encourage them to aspire to as much ugly naughtiness as possible–especially at Christmas time. It’s “fun,” don’t ya know!?
They’ve “tamed the Devil”—or turned him into a cartoonic Chewbacca-type character…with a chip on his shoulder. They think. And inserted him as a key player into the season that most people have thought is one of “peace on earth, good will to men.” AND … he’s been accepted there. Yep, it’s all in fun, don’t ya know?
What’s wrong with this picture?
For a taste of the Krampiness, check out this video.