BY: AL DONATO
He’s a black furry goat demon who throws duffle bags of kids into rivers and chills out with Santa Claus. What’s not to love?
Krampus, a horned, pointy-tongued creature hailing from European legend, is like the Batman of Christmas – he’s the festive anti-hero we need, but don’t deserve.
There are many origin stories behind Krampus. One calls him the son of Hel, goddess of the underworld in Norse mythology. Others trace him back to paganism rituals, the goddess Perchta, or Satan himself. Austrian/German folklore place him as a forefront part of Christmas celebrations, where alongside jolly old St. Nicholas, he visits children. In most countries, this would happen on Krampusnacht or Krampus Night, the night before Christmas Eve in Europe.
While Santa would leave gifts, Krampus would leave them with sticks, coal and rocks in their shoes. However, that’s just the best-case scenario. Traditionally, Krampus has been known to whip children with birch rods, spank their asses, and throw children into streams. His methods of punishment grew however, after a surge of popularity in Austria and other European countries of Krampus postcards, coinciding with the American Santa Claus propaganda boom. These seasonal greetings sent to cherished friends and family depicted Krampus pinching children by the ears, carrying them off into Hell, and impaling them with pitchforks. He’s even shown to have a womanizing side, with many postcards featuring Krampus flirting with ladies.
Supporters aren’t quite condoning child abuse. Now more than ever, Krampus is celebrated in Europe as a symbol of holiday mischief and a chance to have Halloween for adults. On Krampusnacht, people don their most terrifying demonic costumes and march in the streets, clanking bells and growling at laughing onlookers. The hordes of Krampuses playfully interact with children and adults lining the sidewalks, sometimes pretend-punishing and giving everyone good-natured jump scares.
In North America, support for the Christmas devil isn’t as fanatic as Europe, but it is growing.
James Zirco Fisher, a founder of the annual Krampus Ball in Toronto and member of the band Squid Lid, was drawn to Krampus after a former band mate showed him videos of the Krampus parades, brimming with demonic imagery and normalized as something for children to enjoy. He sees Krampus as a figure against the commercialism of Christmas.
“There’s no ramifications for being bad here,” Fisher says. “Some people don’t deserve presents, and that’s okay.”
He adds that he doesn’t want Krampus in North America to be an exact duplicate of the European Krampus, but to become a collage of meanings twisted to match western values, much like St. Nicholas became Santa Claus.
With Krampus Ball and other events in North America turning their backs on the capitalistic yuletide spirit and opting for the season’s beatings Krampus brings, there may soon be a new Christmas mascot associated with Santa and Jesus. Krampus might soon become the dark side of Christmas we so desperately need when it’s the most wonderful (which is code for commercialized) time of the year.