Monday, December 17, 2007


Krampus illustrated by Travis Louie

Words from The Morning News:
Santa Claus may be a wonderful symbol of the holiday spirit, but time and consumer society have warped him to the point where he makes little sense. The idea behind Santa, originally, was to carrot-and-stick little boys and girls into good behavior - he’s got a list, he’s checking it twice, and if you fall under the ‘naughty’ category it’s switches and coals for you. But what child in America is at all afraid of receiving a lump of coal under the tree? What child even knows what a ‘switch’ is? Thanks to a range of factors - Dr. Spock and Mattel are high on the list—Santa’s beneficence fait accompli.

Alpine Europe, on the other hand, doesn’t have this problem. This is because years ago St. Nick’s job was split - while the jolly old elf delivered the goods, an evil, goat-horned spirit called the Krampus brought switches and bad dreams to the boys and girls of Austria, southern Germany, Switzerland, and far northern Italy.

Saint Nicholas and his helpers in an alpine village [origin of photo unknown]/vintage postcard

And while many regional European traditions are giving way to international consumer culture (the fat, red-bedecked Santa is in fact quickly replacing the rail-thin St. Nick throughout the continent), the Krampus is alive and well. He even has his own day - December 5. His success is certainly thanks in part to the lack of a parallel in American society. But he has stuck around mostly because Krampus Fest, like most holidays in alpine Europe, is a beloved excuse for small towns to get together and drink their brains out.

vintage Austrian postcards

According to Mannfred Kapper of the Austrian Cultural Forum, the Krampus was initially a side note to the St. Nicholas story, a goat-faced eminence noir who accompanied St. Nick on his December gift-giving tours. ‘Nicholas and Krampus would come to the houses together,’ Kapper said. ‘Nicholas gave the children presents and Krampus beat them.’ But in the last 200 years, Krampus has slowly developed an identity of his own. ‘Today Krampus is more popular in the countryside, but if you come to the city it is more St. Nicholas,’ he said.

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Here's a small gallery of Krampus images I put together last night (which Mr. Sterling was quicker at the draw than I on posting.)

1 comment:

Doug said...

We made this while working at G4 a few years back: