For many Christians tomorrow is the feast of Saint Nicholas. Today, however- particularly in Germany, Austria, and parts of eastern Europe- belongs to his less jolly and far less benign counterpart. Krampus, sometimes referred to as the Christmas Devil.
The origins of Krampus aren't entirely clear. Personally I think he has his roots in pre-Christian Europe as the pagan deity universally known as the Horned God. We already know that the church had a habit of co-opting local pagan gods and goddesses to rebrand them as Christian saints. We know that the now familiar image of a horned and hoofed Devil started showing up in Christian art and plays around the eleventh century.
Horned gods tend to be equated with the Christian devil. And Krampus definitely reflects that.
He's usually terrifying. (Except when Krampus is female. More on that later.)
The whole horned-god-as-devil thing is pretty weird to me. A horned god really isn't any more scary than the hornless variety. Unless you've done something to piss them off. And that much is true of any god.
Krampus is sometimes shown alongside Saint Nicholas in a sort of good cop/bad cop partnership. Well behaved, obedient children received treats, gifts, and blessings from the saint. Naughty kids were handed over to Krampus to deal with, thus freeing Saint Nick from the chore of dishing out punishments.
Christmas cards as we know them first appeared around 1840 in England. Their popularity just skyrocketed, with all sorts of artwork and photographs being printed, and holiday greetings in various languages spoken in the western world. Krampus themed holiday cards- Krampuskarten- were sought after and avidly collected as soon as they were invented. They brought the character and his imagery to a much wider audience. And remain highly collectible today.
The name Krampus derives from a German word meaning "claw". The earliest known written records of a recognizable Krampus-like being date back to the fifteenth century.
A few of the old greeting cards are actually gruesome. Others have a distinctly adult tone.
At times religious authorities and governments have attempted to ban Krampus and his celebrations. In the 1930s the government of Austria tried it. It's claimed that the Catholic church did too, back in the 12th century. It was never successful because people just liked Krampus too much and refused to give him up.
Meanwhile, his female counterpart Ms Krampus was busily rounding up naughty men. And looked a lot cuter while doing it.
It's possible that the images that I call "Ms Krampus" are comic depictions of an entirely separate mythological being known as Frau Perchta, who's also known as the Christmas Witch. It's true that many Krampus parades include participants dressed up as Frau Perchta; however, those costumes generally depict her in her terrifying hag aspect. Frau Perchta is a shapeshifter and does sometimes appear as a beautiful young woman. She also has her own rich body of lore and her own special day, coinciding with the Feast of the Epiphany or Three Kings Day in January. I have my doubts about the depictions on greeting cards actually portraying Frau Perchta; from what I've seen those cards do not mention her by name. Her typical behaviors don't seem to include grabbing men and carting them off in a basket, either.
Perhaps a further discussion of Frau Perchta could be possible early next month.
More recent evidence of the popularity of Krampus includes movies-
And his own, um...fan fiction?
In the 21st century Krampus festivals, runs, and parades are enjoyed in the US and Europe every December. Krampus cosplay has become it's own artform.
If you're out and about today and see Krampus, either run like hell or ask to take a selfie with them. Your call of course but if you get a pic I'd love to see it.
Gruss vom Krampus! Greetings from Krampus!
Thanks for reading. This is an open thread, all topics are welcome.