December 23, 2011

Gruss vom Krampus

        Greetings from Krampus

        Here's an interesting mythological creature I hadn't heard of until a couple years ago: Krampus.  Krampus is a hairy demonic creature, rather like a satyr with a long, pointed tongue.  He began as a pagan beast, but when the Christian church gave up on eradicating him from his native Alpine regions, he was adopted into the Christmas tradition of various northern European countries.  There he takes on the job of punishing bad children while Saint Nicholas rewards the good ones.
        It's really quite horrible, both in theory and in practice.  The mythological theory is that bad children will be punished with coal or sticks instead of presents.  Very bad children will be beaten by the monster with switches and chains, and the worst children of all will be stuffed in Krampus's sack and carried away to be drowned, or devoured, or delivered straight to hell.  Nice.  Because nothing says "Christmas" like child abuse and sadistic vengeance.
        The way this gets acted out in reality is not much better.  Apparently roving bands of hideously costumed drunkards roam the streets terrifying young and old (especially young women, of course, since these hooligans are mostly young men.)  The traditional night for such frolics is December 5, the eve of Saint Nicholas's Day.  Are you afraid to leave the house?  Then it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!
        I suppose I could examine how this sort of anarchistic fantasy functions as some sort of pressure-release valve, giving juvenile delinquents a structured, limited arena in which to misbehave.  Or perhaps I could discuss how fantasy threats - boogeymen - are used in cultures all around the world to encapsulate and personify all the dangers and evils that face children who don't learn the Right ways to behave.  Maybe we could muse on the phenomenon that humans seem to want to invest all our celebrations with fantasy  (Easter Bunny?  Great Pumpkin?  Elf on a Shelf, anyone?)  Perhaps Krampus can teach us a lesson about how we tend to end up adopting the very cultural traits we try to reject.
        In fact, there are so many directions the Krampus phenomenon could lead that I think I'll just leave it here, with an invitation to thought.  I don't much like Krampus, but he's undeniably an archetype that humans have invented, adapted, and reinvented over and over throughout history and wherever we live.  What does Krampus tell us about ourselves?

        [As for these pictures, they are all Krampus postcards from the late 19th and early 20th century.  Unfortunately, to my intense frustration, although images of Krampus abound on the web, none of them seem to be attributed in any way.  Nobody even gives their dates.   The last is taken from the book The Devil in Design by Monte Beauchamp (Fantagraphic Books, 2004) but I can't find any specific info about it, either.  It pains me greatly to post images without their proper credit and information, but I simply cannot find the facts.  Sorry!]


Anonymous said...

Whoa, baby. Why aren't more of us raging angry about this Grampus dude? Here is this creature who is scaring the beegeebers out of all the little boys and girls in his zip code. We ought to be seriously mobilized against his ilk. You'd think he is a banker or a financial manipulator or some such evil doer. But then, again, except for the Occupy people, the 99% have hardly taken up the cause of protecting society's vulnerable ones. And another thing about Grampus -- is he a not-so-subtle put down of grandfathers across the globe? Some of us are even called by that name. Speak up -- I call for a renaming of the Grampus figure. Why not call him Mercantilus? In this Holiday season we need to strike back. I enjoyed this posting and want to see more social analysis seeping into the comments on these pages.

The Aging Wordsmith

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Call him Krampus, not Gramps, and you won't have to take it so personally! As for society, my guess is that those who do Krampus runs would certainly consider themselves part of the 99%, and see themselves as taking a rare opportunity to feel some power. It's just unfortunate that 100% of us seem to have trouble using power wisely when we do get the chance.

Anonymous said...

I'm from Austria (a country that loves the Krampus) and there's just so much wrong with your post and the comments, ide...
But hey, I always love reading 'articles' where people actually think they know what they're talking about :D
But at least I'll tell you that the 5th of December is actually Krampus day and not St. Nicholas'/Nikolaus' (which is on the 6th)

@ The Aging Wordsmith
Just because you don't know the difference between a 'K' and a 'G' doesn't mean that everyone's insulting someone's granddad -_-
Also, Krampus comes 'Krampen'/'Krampn' which either means claw or something lifeless/wilted. So I'm guessing it's you who's insulting old people, if you connect those words with them ^^
And yes, let's just rename a mythical creature that's a few hundred years old, because you think English is the only language out there! :D
Plus, children actually LIKE the guys who dress up as Krampus. Most of them see how much they can annoy them without getting chased by the Krampus or if they can outrun them.
Now, I'd really LOVE to know your view about Halloween, because that must be even worse, right? Even more people dressed up as weird creatures, trying to scare other people~

- a person who will now go eat her chocolate Krampus that's still lying somewhere

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Hello, Anonymous - Thanks for sharing your point of view! As you point out, I really don't know much about it, (although I don't claim that I do. I just tried to poke around and do some research. However, I do say that Krampus Day is Dec. 5. But if you thought you saw any other factual errors, do please point them out.) I'd definitely appreciate having you educate us more about this... as opposed to just abuse which unfortunately doesn't actually really help inform me much. As for Hallowe'en, I'm a big fan - except in cases of hooliganism. You could try reading some of my posts about Hallowe'en if you would genuinely love to know my view about it, as you say.

Slackr said...

Wow, have you not enough to get self righteous about? Now you have to attack a very old tongue- in- cheek tradition from a culture that you don't understand? I have to admit, I never made it past the first paragraph in your article, there was no point in reading any further. Having just discovered Krampus only recently, I'm proud to wear a bar t shirt in his honor! Cheers!

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Hello, Slackr, I do feel that there's a certain irony in your self-righteous attack on an article you admit to not having read! (Especially as the one paragraph you did say you read contains no judgement whatsoever...) That said, you are certainly entitled to your positive opinion of Krampus - and I am entitled to explain why I am not a fan of this tradition. Cheers!