On the night of December 5th through the night of December 6th some people honor and celebrate a different kind of Yule figure. Rather than the benevolent, happy, peaceful characters that add to the joy of the season, this night is set aside for someone a bit different. When it comes to children’s tales just about everything has this great sense of hope and celebration this time of year but there are some darker figures, and some just plain weird, that are part of the winter holidays. One of those that has made a big comeback in the last few years has been the European figure of Krampus.
Krampus, who’s name comes from the German krampen, meaning claw, originates from the Alpine region of Europe and is particularly tied to Austria. Sometimes called “the Holiday Devil“, he is the flip side to St. Nicholas. Where St. Nick gives gifts and blesses the good children, Krampus comes along and takes care of the bad ones. It is said that St. Nick goes out to deliver gifts and treats to the children and as he does so he discovers who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. The nice ones get treats and gifts but the naughty ones are reported to Krampus who then goes to pay them a visit. When Krampus comes he whips the children with branches and chains and then takes the really bad ones away in a basket that he carries on his back. The story goes that Krampus brings them down to Hell with him and he prepares them for a holiday dinner. Pretty scary stuff, huh!
What’s even more scary is what Krampus often looks like. He is most often depicted in a Devil like form with a tail, horns and hooves, and a long red tongue. He’s most always black in color and mostly covered in hair or fur. More modern artistic representations of him show him dressed in very slick and stylish black suits, sometimes wearing a hat where his horns can pop through, and taking on the image of an evil and sinister business man. But regardless of how he looks, his function is still the same, to scare little children, and even adults in some places, in order to entice them into being well behaved.
There is even a night specifically dedicated to the celebration of Krampus. This takes place on December 5th, the night before St. Nicholas’ Day which occurs on December 6th. St. Nicholas’ Day is a children’s winter holiday that takes place in parts of Northern Europe where children receive gifts and have their own mini-winter holiday. The night before, however, is a time to remind everyone that they better hope they had been good because while St. Nicholas is delivering gifts to the good boys and girls Krampus may well be coming for you!
Adults, mostly men, dress up as Krampus in large and elaborate outfits, going through their towns and villages rattling old chains and bells to try and scare and frighten children and adults alike. For many this has become quite the production with parades and town wide celebrations are held for this night where others join in as well dressing up in other costumes including ghosts, witches, and various scary monsters and creatures. Those who dress up are said to often drink quite a bit during the events and it becomes a big night of reveling for the grown up (who then get to spend the next day possibly hungover nursing children who’ve had nightmares all night about being dragged to Hell in a basket by Krampus).
While Krampusnacht is mainly a European tradition it has slowly begun to pop up in the States, most notably in Oregon where a Krampusnacht celebration is held in Portland. You can find details on their website and you can visit them on Twitter (their Facebook page doesn’t seem to be working at the moment). While their events for this year have passed, they already have announced the date for the 2012 Krampusnacht as December 1st next year. So if you happen to find yourself in the Pacific Northwest next December, you might want to go pay Krampus a visit and find out if you make it into his basket to Hell!
And if you thought THAT was scary then this will give you nightmares for a least a week…
Merry Krampus-Christmas everyone! 😀