How many times have you been left a piece of coal? Probably never, unless your family think that they are hilarious in trying to make you think you’ve been naughty and Santa has left you nothing but a sooty handful. While this is a bit of a forgotten empty threat these days, there is actually a darker side to the great St. Nick, and he goes by the name of Krampus.
You may has seen the film that came out in 2015, which was a great representation of Krampus, it didn’t really explain much of the background to the counterpart of the saint that liked to leave gifts.
The art work above is a typical rendition which were on Krampus cards during the 1900s. It depicts a soot black demon, kidnapping naughty children, adorned with chains and a lolling tongue, he stuffs a child in to a basket. He’s horned and has one cloven hoof and one foot. The chains symbolise his binding to the devil, as does the cloven hoof, but the foot shows his duties within the human world too. Some times he is shown carrying birch branches which he uses to whip children.
Krampus is a German/Austrian tradition with celebrations of the figure which still happen today in great precessions of people dressed as the demon, but the dark legend tells of Krampusnatch, where naughty children were lucky to survive the night to see the 6th of December.
Legend goes that on the evening of the 5th of December, Krampus roams the streets in search of naughty children from St. Nicholas’s list, chains jangling and a basket on his back. He would the stuff the children in his basket, to either drown or take to the depths of hell. Children who survived the night, could feel safe that they would be visited by St, Nicholas.
Way before this worked its way in to Christian myth, Krampus was actually pagan, and was said to be the son of Hel from Norse mythology, but this was a great way to bribe children in to being good for the year, often with little reminders of gold painted birch branches left around the house in bunches as a permanent reminder that children who misbehave could be dragged off.
Between 1934 and 1938, Austria was under a facist regime and Krampus was boycotted, seen as an anti Christian ideal. Krampus celebrations were forbidden and it was pledged that any “Krampus” on the street would be arrested. While it never got so far as banning Krampus entirely, pamphlets and articles were published saying that the stories and presence of Krampus could scar children for life. Now this does seem a bit rich from a country that wrote children’s books where children bleed to death from having their thumbs cut off for sucking them, but who am I to judge.
Since then, Krampus has lingered in the background, until reappearing in popular culture a few years ago.
As a non parent, personally I think it’s a great way to get children to toe the line, but I don’t have a maternal bone in my body, so I’m no great judge.
Do you have any Krampus stories? Maybe you’ve been to a Krampus festival. Why not tell me your experiences in the comments…