While surfing the interweb—I mean, researching Christmas traditions—I stumbled onto some customs that are anything but merry. The anti-Christmas movement skews angry. Think t-shirts emblazoned with “F*** Christmas” and Facebook posts calling for the burning of Christmas trees. (PSA: Don’t do this. Christmas tree fires are fast and deadly. Videos by the National Fire Protection Association and Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Fire Engineering Program show Christmas tree fires progressing from a few smoldering branches to raging infernos in under a minute. In one WPI video, flashover occurred in 63 seconds. And the NFPA says Christmas tree fires have higher fatality rates than other house fires.) A variety of Christmas-themed slasher flicks pop up in my Netflix recommended movies feed. (Blame the algorithm.) Some of the anti-Christmas customs protest the commercialization and excessive consumerism of Christmas but others are mean-spirited to the point of hatefulness. They possess none of the charm of How the Grinch Stole Christmas or A Christmas Carol which are, after all, about finding Christmas. However, one custom that forgoes charm for terror and at first seems to be the epitome of anti-Christmas turns out to be a Christmas tradition with ancient origins—Krampus celebrations.
Krampus, a half-goat, half-demon creature, makes Bad Santa seem like your favorite uncle. Krampus travels with Saint Nicholas on the night of December 5th, the eve of Saint Nicholas Day. Children leave shoes on the doorstep and Saint Nicholas fills them with candy if they’ve been good. If the children have been bad, the saint will leave them coal or sticks. If the children have been “wicked,” Krampus will beat them with birch switches or kidnap them away to be tortured. No word on how bad you’d have to be to make it from Saint Nick’s naughty list to Krampus’s hit list.
Krampus originated centuries ago in the pagan religion of the area that’s now Austria and southern Germany. His name comes from the German word meaning “claw.” He’s believed to be the son of Hel, the goddess of the Norse underworld (He’d make a great villain in a Thor movie.) and to represent the frightening aspects of dark winters in pre-industrial, heavily wooded Alpine Europe. The Catholic Church banned his celebrations in the 12th century. In the 19th century, people sent Krampus cards. Yes, they’re as creepy as you imagine. (https://mentalfloss.com/article/88891/17-devilishly-awesome-vintage-krampus-cards). The Fascists banned him again in 1934 but later in the 20th century he staged a comeback. Now he’s jumped across the pond from Europe to the US where Krampus parties and parades take place coast to coast. The celebrations generally involve adults donning scary goat demon costumes, getting drunk, and behaving in an un-Christmaslike fashion so it’s probably best to leave the wee ones at home. They certainly won’t want to sit on Krampus’s knee.