Interview with a Krampus

I don’t know about you, but I definitely have a healthy dose of the Christmas spirit this year. The decorations are up, the lights are lit, and rebellious radio stations are pumping out classic holiday tunes like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Most of my shopping is done, there are way too many cookies in my house, and a candy cane hangs on the star that tops our tree.

Everything is feeling like Christmas, and it’s kind of perfect. Or at least it was, until a more sinister holiday tradition found its way onto my radar. Before we snuggle into our beds to dream of sugarplums, I think it’s time we talk about Krampus.

carolers
I would give these people figgy pudding if they showed up on my doorstep.

Maybe you’ve always been aware of St. Nick’s demon counterpart. I grew up happy, so I didn’t know about him until a few years ago. And I never met him until last night.

The origin of this dark character is a little unclear. The name Krampus probably comes from Krampen, the German word for claw, though similar traditions have come from all over Europe and may predate the sweeter celebrations of Christmas.

He is part goat, part demon, reminiscent of the traditional horned Satan of Christianity, and he comes on Krampusnacht on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas Day. He comes lugging chains and carrying a bundle of birch branches for swatting naughty children. The truly rotten kiddos, he stuffs in the sack on his back and carries them off, presumably to eat them.

Yikes. Merry Christmas!

krampuswarning
Krampus is useful if you need to keep the kiddos out of the room where the Christmas gifts are hidden.

As you can probably tell, I’m not a big fan of this particular tradition. Honestly, Santa breaking and entering from the rooftop to snack on cookies isn’t high on my list, either, but at least he’s not devouring the children.

But because I, thankfully, didn’t grow up with Krampus in my life, I thought I should learn a bit about him as his popularity resurges throughout Europe and the United States. I went to the one place where I knew he’d be.

Saint Charles, Missouri, not too far from where I live, hosts an annual celebration called Christmas Traditions through several blocks of its charming brick road Main Street that runs alongside the Missouri River.

It’s a great family event, where you can catch a horse-drawn carriage ride, buy chestnuts roasted on an open fire, and listen to roaming packs of Victorian carolers begging for figgy pudding. Every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, characters of Christmas, including Susie Snowflake, Tiny Tim, and a whole host of traditional Father Christmases from around the world gather along the shop-lined lane and mingle with the crowd, handing out trading cards and holiday cheer.

On Wednesday evenings you can find them, too, but that’s also when the darker side of Christmas comes out to play. That’s when I went looking for Krampus. I had a hard time finding him at first so I asked a kindly old Kris Kringle, who was visibly distressed by the question. “We keep the naughty characters on the north end of the street,” he explained. “I should warn you, they’re a tough bunch, a little rough around the edges.”

krampus2
One Christmas tradition I think I could do without.

I thanked him and headed north where I discovered an abominable snowman, the Ice Queen, and Jolakotturinn, an Icelandic mouse demon that also eats people and will now haunt my sugarplum dreams.

At last I spotted the man/goat/demon himself. He was busy wishing people a happy President’s Day, Labor Day, or Columbus Day—anything but Christmas, a holiday he didn’t care to acknowledge. He handed out cards only when children said the magic phrase: “Give me a card, now!” I didn’t actually see him stuff any of them into a bag, but I could tell he was thinking about it. I’d have asked him. I even planned to. But he was a little rough around the edges.

Is Krampus a part of your holiday traditions?

 

9 thoughts on “Interview with a Krampus

  1. The one we call “Black Pete” – sounds like your Krampen – is part of our household’s tradition (not in NZ however except among the Dutch who are this country’s 3rd largest group of immigrants). We get annoyed when the PC community go on about a white person painting their face black; it’s racist etc. But he has a black face because of soot from the chimneys, not because of his ethnic origins. I suspect the tradition won’t survive for many more years.

    1. Yep, sounds like Black Pete probably shares a background with Krampus. Our PC police are after the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” right now because they say it has a rapey vibe. Hence the rebellious radio stations. You know, I think I’ve heard the song more this year than I probably had in the last decade.

  2. I seriously thought that Krampus was just created for low budget horror movies. I was shocked when I found out that he is a thing! So, no, we don’t do Krampus. Have considered Belsnickel 😉

  3. I just listened to a podcast about Christmas traditions in Europe and, yep, Krampus was there in all his malevolent glory. Still, my favorite part of the podcast was to learn the kiddies in Ireland leave Santa Guinness instead of cookies. Because, you know, what could be better than a fat drunk man hanging out on rooftops…let’s just hope the reindeer stay sober.

  4. Etienne

    You have touched the tip of the iceberg. One only need do a little Googling and you will find a whole gang of the darkside characters, like Pere Fouettard, Belsnickel/Pelsnickel, Swarte Piet, Knecht Ruprecht, Gryla, and the Yule Lads to name a few.

I love comments! Please keep them PG, though. I blush easily.

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