This year, put the Krampus back in Christmas!by Don Lacey on Nov. 27, 2012, under Art & Culture, Christianity, Freethought, History, Religion, That's Life!
Most American’s have grown up with stories of Santa’s elves, reindeer and even his wife Mrs. Claus, but it’s a shame how few know about St. Nicholas’s other helper, Krampus.
In popular Central European tradition, this demonic character accompanies St. Nicholas on his yearly run to give gifts to well behaved children. However, Krampus is not a gift giver but exists to provide a warning to poorly behaved kids. According to tradition when he finds a troublesome child, he snatches this child into his sack and takes him away to be devoured. He is known to carry chains, belts, and birch branches to discipline the unruly before consuming them. The very idea that this tradition has been watered down to a mere giving of coal to bad kids is almost saddening. To this day, in many parts of Germany, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, and Croatia men dressed as this goat-like monster take to the streets to frighten children. This can be seen HERE and HERE.
This character did not make it into the American Santa mythology. Perhaps the American Santa tradition ended up being so clean, commercial, and capitalistic that this disciplinarian monster just did not fit in. Perhaps the people at Rankin Bass had so much difficulty squeezing Krampus into their scenes of smiling elves singing in Santa’s work shop, that the whole idea was forgotten altogether. With so many children today terrified of sitting on Santa’s lap imagine what sort of reaction a man in a Krampus suit would have generated.
The role Krampus has traditionally played might not be the best idea. Terrifying children into good behavior through threats of being eaten by a viscous monster is hardly a healthy or honest form of parental guidance. Also, teaching children through fear greatly reinforces the notion, that it’s only wrong if you get caught. Threatening children with visits from Krampus is morally repugnant in the same way that threatening children with an eternity in hell is.
While I object to using Krampus as a disciplinary tool, he is a fascinating character and part of an interesting Christmas tradition. This character, lost in history, makes for great discussion and American’s would be well served to learn of this mysterious helper to Saint Nicholas along with other “lost traditions.”