Alrighty, we're going to start out this weird trek towards this most beloved of Holidays with the big one. When people know weird stuff about Christmas, probably nine times out of ten that weird thing is The Krampus. Once a fairly obscure character, particularly her in the good old US of A, Krampus has actually started snowballing in popularity in recent years. Not only appearing in multiple television programs and films, I am even currently reading a novel called Krampus The Yule Lord (which is an AWESOME read for anyone versed in Norse Mythology who doesn't mind pretty dark R rated Christmas ventures... which normally I do, but it's so smart n' clever it has somehow won a pass in my heart).
So for those of us who aren't already at least somewhat familiar with this Yuletide demon, who is the Krampus? Allow me to introduce you! Krampus is represented as a beast-like creature, generally demonic in appearance. The creature has roots in Germanic folklore; however, his influence has spread far beyond German borders. There are, like Santa, numerous regional variations to this beast-man, but for our purposes I'm gonna stick to the pretty standard popular stuff. Krampus is a satyr/devil-like being- very closely resembling the Scandinavian devil from fairytales -who spends the holiday season behaving somewhat like the Santa we all know and love... but a bit opposite. While Santa visits good children and offers them gifts- or sometimes naughty ones and gives them coal -Krampus visits bad kids and punishes them. He carries a whip, or a bundle of branches, and lashes the children. He spanks them. He bites them. He stuffs them in his sack and takes them back to his cave to eat them. He boils them in oil. He tortures them.
This holiday ghoul even has his own day set apart for his brand of seasonal punishment. December 5th is often referred to as Krampusnacht (Krampus' Night). See, on December 6th the Feast of St. Nicholas is celebrated in various parts of Europe. On the preceding evening before Santa comes to town, the hairy devil appears on the streets and has his way with the kids. Sometimes accompanying St. Nicholas and sometimes on his own, Krampus visits homes and businesses and more or less terrorizes children. Literally. Parents either do it themselves, or get a friend to dress up as the monster, and they go scare the pants off their kids. A "Krampuslauf" is a run of celebrants dressed as the beast, often fueled by alcohol. And they pound on kids' windows, rattle chains, and cause general fear and annoyance.
It's awesome. While Santa Claus expanded shop and sold products in mid-1800s America, the holiday card craze exploded in Europe. In Austria and other parts of Europe, countless season’s greeting cards featured Krampus, often emblazoned with the phrase “Grüß Vom Krampus” (Greetings from Krampus). While the lurid images are suffused with a modern sense of the comic and the surreal, they still resonant with mythic power and primordial horror. And with Krampus representing the naughty side of the season, the sexy subtext is hard to ignore in these often very cheeky cards. A century later, the brilliance of these magnificent works of pop art is now gaining global recognition. Magazine curator Monte Beauchamp reintroduced Krampus cards to America nearly a century after their heyday. His art books are the definitive works showcasing Krampus and other Devil-inspired greeting cards. A collector's market for Krampus cards has grown as the figure of Krampus pops up across the cultural landscape.
Krampus has been featured on Adult Swim's The Venture Bros and the CW’s Supernatural; in 2009, Krampus visited the The Colbert Report and had Stephen shaking in his Brooks Brothers’ suit. Over the last decade, Krampusnacht celebrations have sprouted up in U.S. cities such as Portland and San Francisco. Perhaps the general hunger for a darker holiday has made the evil Santa Claus character a staple of pop culture. Krampus, with his horns, hoove(s? Sometimes he has one hoofed foot and one normal one) and long wagging tongue, embodies this revived spirit of the Xmas season!