By Kate Wolford.
Somehow, over the last few years, a hairy, horned, cloven hoofed, child-thrashing demon from the Alpine regions of Europe has crept his way into Christmas celebrations in the US, Canada and other countries across the world. This disturbing fellow, who is sometimes Santa’s adversary, friend or sidekick (depending on the story you are reading), is known as Krampus, and he’s having a big day in the cold holiday sun.
He’s not new. Not at all. Krampus has been firmly ensconced in folklore in countries like Austria for centuries. His origins are unclear, but he might be connected to Pan or the Devil or other pre-Christian or Christian figures. His purpose in Christmas lore might best be described as an enforcer. Traditionally, he travels with St. Nicholas, who, in many countries of Europe, is not the absurdly jolly rotund figure he is in the US. Certainly, St. Nicholas is a benign and generous figure, but through Krampus, he punishes wicked, bratty kids with a whipping—or, if they are terribly bad, these youthful offenders might be dragged to Hell in a basket carried on Krampus’ back. The important thing is, he provides a counterbalance to St. Nick’s bounty, and serves as a great warning to kids to be good as gold if they want St. Nick to treat them right.
Krampusnacht is Dec. 5, the night before St. Nicholas Day on Dec. 6. It’s a time of revelry and crazy fun, and largely for adults. Perhaps that’s why it is catching on in the US. With birthrates down and marriage delayed, the US is, perhaps, becoming less kid-focused. And, as those of us in the fairy-tale/folklore world know, fantasy figures in general are ever more popular.
The truth is, I’m not sure why Krampus is catching on these days, but he surely is. And he’s certainly inspired the writers in Krampusnacht: Twelve Tales of Krampus. In this anthology, you’ll find Krampus as enforcer, lover, friend, savior, and more, but every incarnation is a fascinating one. So grab a copy and be prepared to travel into the dark and dangerous side of the Yuletide.
Kate Wolford is editor and publisher of Enchanted Conversation: A Fairy Tale Magazine at fairytalemagazine.com and editor of the book Beyond the Glass Slipper: Ten Neglected Fairy Tales To Fall In Love With. She teaches first-year college writing, incorporating fairy tales in her assignments whenever possible.
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