Krampus

Klaubauf, Bartl, Pelznickel, Grampus, Niglobartl, or Krampusz… they are all names that relate to the same holiday incarnation that is most widely known as Krampus.

Is he merely a companion to Kris Kringle/Santa Claus? Or is he a peer… an equal to the jolly man in Red and White?

In Western culture Santa Claus knows when we’re naughty and when we’re nice and either gives us toys for good behavior or lumps of coal for bad. Hmm… rather light on the bad behavior, huh? There is little to discourage children from such behavior if the mere threat is going without a toy. After all, a lump of coal is more of a ‘null’ gift. Something neither here nor there.

What is the purpose of Krampus then? What does he offer to those children that fall under the naughty side of the list? In some countries it is Krampus that delivers the coal and perhaps a ruten,  bundle of birch sticks.

In some countries Karmpus is said to use the ruten to strike naughty children. Or, some incarnations show him with a whip for the same purpose.  Chains, are another feature that is sometimes attributed to Krampus. Chains he rattles to frighten children into good behavior. Still another possible variation of Krampus carries a tub or a sack on his back. This is to carry off the naughty children to a dismal fate.

Connections to other traditions and Christmas imagery –

  • Are Jacob Marley’s chains a like symbol to the chain of Krampus. Jacob rattles his chains and displays them to help convince Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. His fate is one he hopes to ward Scrooge away from, but sadly the chains did not have the right effect on his old business partner. Or, in the fact of it, was it not frightening enough for an adult?
  • In Navajo culture/mythology, the Spider Woman is said to live at the top of Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelly in North Eastern Arizona. The rocks at the top of Spider Rock appear white and was said to be that color because of the white bones of the children that she took up there if they misbehaved.
  • The Japanese have a festival at the end of the year, the Namahage Festival (December 31) is a study in frightening children into behaving. Some villages have a volunteer dressed up as an ogre that visits the houses looking for children that have misbehaved. The head of the household receives their ‘guest’ and should they choose to, may present the ogre with mochi(sweet rice) and sake (rice wine) to appease them and send them on their way. This is usually enough to make the children listen to their parents, hmm?

So, which do you prefer – Santa giving out toys to the good kids and coal the bad? Or is he not enough to scare the little kiddies into behaving? Do you look outside your door for Krampus to come and call?

For more posts, information and art about Krampus… visit the Krampus Carnival at Nevermet Press – or should it be Krampus Carnage-ival?

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