Friday, December 22, 2017

Fun Friday Facts #126: Krampus

Guys, it’s been a crazy week. I’ve been working on freelance projects, running around doing Christmas shopping, wrapping gifts, shopping for Christmas food, and most of all, working on a special Christmas tentacle scarf for Jim:

Don’t worry, I already gave it to him so I’m not spoiling the surprise. He likes it, or at least he pretended to like it convincingly, I can’t really tell. It took me a long time to make; two episodes of Orange Is the New Black, one episode of The Crown, seven episodes of The Walking Dead, plus the entire run times of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Logan, and roughly two-and-a-half hours of the audio book of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Harari. If you want to be reminded that your existence is ultimately meaningless, pick up Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Harari. Ooof.

So, naturally, I didn’t have much time to work on the blog or other creative writing projects this week, which is why I’m going to write this Fun Friday Facts post at midnight on Friday (er, Saturday morning) but change the time stamp to like 8:00 p.m. Nothing to see here, folks, move it along.

I’ve mentioned Krampus on the blog before; in fact, he came up during last week’s post on Zwarte Piet. In Austria, Bavaria, South Tyrol and Northern Italy, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic, Krampus is a half-demon, half-goat creature who is a companion of Saint Nick aka Santa Claus.

Image by MatthiasKabel from Wikimedia Commons

Krampus punishes naughty children, sometimes by swatting them with birch branches, or lashing them with a whip. Sometimes, Krampus stuffs naughty children into a sack or basket, carrying them away for “drowning, eating, or transport to Hell.” I’m not sure which one of those things is the worst.
These dead-eyed children in this vintage postcard couldn't care less that they're about to be eaten by a demon.

It’s unclear where Krampus came from. In some medieval iconography, Saint Nicholas has been portrayed in the company of a devil, in chains to show that the saint has subdued him. Krampus does wear chains, which are said to symbolize the dominion of the Church over the Devil. Krampus may represent a devil that Saint Nicholas has subdued and controls.
However, it’s thought that Krampus, like so many other elements of Christmas, may have roots in pre-Christian tradition. Boisterous masked devils, both of the scary and the funny varieties, have been a popular element of German and Austrian church plays and other mid-winter festival celebrations since before Saint Nicholas himself became a popular figure in Germany in the 11th century. The figure of Krampus gradually became associated with Saint Nicholas over the centuries, until, by the 17th century, he had become a full-fledged part of Christmas and other Christian winter holidays, as a well-known companion of Saint Nicholas. Many natives of Austria, and other regions where Krampus is popular, acknowledge that the figure has pagan origins and has been “assimilated to the Christian Devil.”

Krampus is important, though, because in the European tradition, Saint Nicholas only concerns himself with rewarding good children. Krampus serves as a foil, taking care of the (delicious) naughty children. While Nicholas passes out gifts, Krampus gives out coal and bundles of birch twigs, or snatches naughty children up into his aforementioned basket or bag. The half-goat, half-devil may take to the streets on Krampusnacht, December 5, alone or in the company of St. Nick. If you see a Krampus, it is customary to offer it schnapps. 

Or your least-favorite child.