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A Very Krampus Christmas

Updated on December 3, 2015
Krampus and Saint Nicolas
Krampus and Saint Nicolas | Source

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Viennese Mythology is Terrifying to Children

Christmas isn’t the same for everyone.

Very few Americans think of Santa as anything other than a jolly old elf that brings toys to boys and girls. The worst case Christmas scenarios a child may conceive may be that he’ll not get what he asked for or was on the naughty list and got some coal at the bottom of his stocking.

At least that’s what it was like when I was growing up.

My parents always left a small bit of coal at the bottom of my stocking as a reminder that I should be just a little bit better next year. Today’s spoiled children don’t understand this concept and I’m left to ponder my own childhood neuroses in the privacy of my own living nightmares.

But I digress.

I spoke to a European woman recently who did not have the same warm feelings about Santa Claus that most Americans have. She grew up with the tradition that Santa gives gifts to all the good children but on December 6th punishes naughty children with a wooden switch session. Children were terrified that they’d be beaten by the jolly fat man.

I wasn’t that surprised given what I knew about Grimm’s Fairy Tales. If adults read those kinds of twisted fairy tales before children went to bed, it’s no wonder that Hitler Youth were so easy to make.

I thought that was terrible. Then I was introduced to the Yuletide myths of Krampus.

A young man dressed as Krampus during the Krampus Night celebration
A young man dressed as Krampus during the Krampus Night celebration | Source

Krampus – The Yuletide Nightmare that Walks the Earth

It was only through my fascination of mythology and horror that I stumbled across the story of Krampus.

Before I go on, I would like you to know that this tradition has been resurrected in Austria recently. The Catholic Church had a very definite opinion of Krampus and had done their very best to discourage the tradition during the Inquisition.

But Krampus survived.

In short, Krampus or Grampus is a demonic beast-like creature that arrives in Viennese towns dragging rusty chains and bells while carrying sticks to whip small naughty children with before he DRAGS THEM TO HELL WHERE HE WILL EITHER DROWN OR EAT THEM. Krampus carries a washtub strapped to his back to do the drowning on site. Just so the kids don’t have to wait for their special trip to the underworld.

You better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout. I’m telling you why.

That was all before they thought Krampus was going to come and give his special six pack of whupass to naughty kids. Seriously, can you imagine greeting the Yuletide season with the fear of some horned hairy cloven footed beast that has arrived to possibly drag you to Hell? What’s worse, Mom and Dad are in on the deal.

On Krampusnacht during Krampuslaufen, modern Viennese celebrations of the Winter Solstice have young men, fueled by alcohol (mostly schnapps – because if you have to be a demonic child nightmare, it’s good to have a couple of belts in you), dressed as Krampus. If the children are lucky, he’ll be accompanied by Saint Nicolas, who is dressed like a bishop and is there to distribute gifts to all the good boys and girls. In some of the remote Austrian villages, Krampus is accompanied by other lesser demons (aka Schabmänner) and Saint Nicolas is nowhere to be found.

Some places, like Salzburg, have transformed Krampus to be a more comical figure where the demon is more for humor rather than a terrifying monster.

As Americans decorate their houses with Christmas trees and wreaths, the Austrian families add small gold painted wooden sticks as a REMINDER of what will happen to the kids if they are not good – a Krampus reminder of the stygian horror that awaits them.

Final Words

It should be no surprise that I find this entire practice extremely disturbing. While I have nothing against traumatizing small children with things that will bring a temporary nightmare to them (such things are expected from a mischievous uncle), Krampus is just about the worst childhood nightmare brought to life.

However, the Krampus thing is the long term neurotic fuel that Sigmund Freud could have built a book on. Imagine you are a child and you are faced with a definite dichotomy of the Yuletide mythology of Krampus and Saint Nicolas. What we have is a classic “carrot and stick” scenario.

Good kids get gifts, toys, and sweet meats. Bad kids are drowned in a portable bath tub, if they’re lucky. If they're not lucky, they are dragged into a fiery Hell by some drunk gigantic demon who has plans on either eating them or drowning them – hopefully in water.

The terrible thing is that while the mythology of Krampus is full of pre-Christian pagan signs of a satyr like creature with horns, a tail, and cloven feet, the post Christian celebration underlines that the horror of this beast can only be avoided by an embracing of a Christian bishop figure in the form of Saint Nicolas.

Getting whatever Saint Nicolas offers can only be reached through the practice and following of Christian dogma. That’s how you get your reward. Failure is cruel and final. The symbolism that Krampus is a Pagan figure does more to steer a child from any kind of alternate belief other than that of the Christian Judean one.

While I’m not completely supporting a Pagan stance on this, I am vehemently against the open practice of childhood brainwashing. This celebration, while it does have the hallmark of fun for the adults, can certainly leave its set of scars for children who believe such creatures can exist.

That’s just nightmare fuel.


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    • SM OBrien profile image

      Sharon OBrien 5 years ago

      Actually, Krampus was more folklore than Pagan (think - Jersey Devil. Folklore, no link to Paganism). Since much of the old tales were written down and "embellished" by Christians, they are the ones who gave him the Satan-like attributes. Much has been lost from the old original tale. So, this particular creature cannot be laid at the door of Pagans. At the advent of Christianity, he was used by parents as a counterpoint to St. Nick to frighten children...and of course grew more grotesque with each retelling. His beginning may be lost in obscurity, but I have to agree that it sound rather traumatic.