American kids have never earned a Christmas gift — they know goddamned well that no matter how bad they’ve been all year, there’s still probably an iPod with their name on it come December 25th. There’s a reason you don’t see that same sense of self-entitlement in German kids, and that reason is Krampus, the Christmas Demon.
While smug American children sleep easy knowing the old “lump of coal” threat is empty and baseless, many naughty European children are annually threatened with a Pagan Fertility Demon from deepest, darkest hell — a goat-legged, horned satyr who won’t leave coal as much as he will beat them savagely for their misdeeds and then drag them to hell (it’s somewhat more effective). So, let’s get to know Mr. Krampus, the Child-Eating Holiday Hellbeast, shall we?
Note: This post originally ran on on TR December 23rd, 2010. I wasn’t going to run it again, but Krampus made me. –Rob
10) Krampus Is Older Than Jesus
Krampus (from the German “Krampen,” or “Claw,” or “Giddy Child Murderer”) was born of a pre-Christian, Alpine Pagan tradition, and has been described as a “boozy goat-horned menace that whips children around Europe.” Lest you confuse this with Madonna, Krampus can also be identified by his matted-black hair, Gene Simmons-like tongue, cloven hooves and, I can only assume, a penis that is violently barbed like a housecat’s, but also corkscrewy and muddy like a pig’s johnson. He also sports a large wicker basket on his back, filled to the brim with thorny, unbreakable birch sticks. What are the sticks used for? Oh, we’re getting to that! WE’RE GETTING TO THAT!
9) Krampus Rides Shotgun with Santa
The Mystery Science Theater 3000 classic Mexican Christmas movie Santa Claus shows the jolly old elf thwarting the devil Pitch at every turn, protecting the poor children and showering them with gifts. But on December 5th in places like in Austria, Switzerland, Croatia and Germany, the little bastards are on their own. Krampus is St. Nick’s right hand man: a good cop/bad cop team of pure emotional torture. If it’s decided you’re good (AND you pass a grueling pop-quiz on religious catechism, in some traditions), the gifts are yours. If not, you are swiftly whipped raw and right to the edge of death by Krampus’ unrelenting birch rods. St. Nick — the Don Michael Corleone in this fucked-up relationship – -looks on but keeps his hands clean. He’s a saint, after all.
8) Men are Encouraged to Terrify Children as Krampus
As a young German child you may reach an age where you don’t believe this Krampus shit anymore. And that’s about the time a herd of men dressed as Krampus–or Krampi, I guess–will approach your bedroom window, in full-Satan regalia, rattling rusty chains and large bells and screaming at you…every December 5th. And while you’re pissing down your lederhosen, your parents then LET THEM IN THE HOUSE, LET THEM TORMENT YOU AND THEN HAVE DRINKS WITH THEM. Known as “Krampusnacht: Night of the Krampus” (which sounds like a straight-to-DVD Uwe Boll Film), these “often intoxicated” men invade entire towns with torches, chains and other traumatizing instruments until the streets run brown with the shit of mortified rug rats. Still, if you’re wasted, feeling violent and in possession of a Pagan Incubus costume, this actually looks like the most fun you will ever, ever have during Christmas.
7) Krampus Has Mastered Many Forms of Punishment
When it comes to punishment, Krampus doesn’t stop at mere birch rods. That would be too kind. Under the careful tutelage of Pinhead and various Cenobites, Krampus’ retribution repertoire grew ten-fold over the centuries. According to a series of very popular 1800s postcards, Krampus enjoyed: ripping pigtails out, leading children off a cliff, sadistic ear-pulling, putting pre-teens in shackles, forcing children to beg for mercy, and throwing youngsters on an Express Train to The Lake of Fire (making no local stops). And then there’s my favorite: drowning children to death in ink and fishing out the corpse with a pitchfork. It’s like The Grinch meets Hostel.
6) Krampus Makes a Terrible Video Game Boss
Krampus’ made a brief cameo in the arcade game CarnEvil — better known as that shitty first-person shooter with the broken trigger collecting dust at your local Multiplex game lobby. While he looks more like a Santa/Krampus/Rudolph hybrid, and spouts off terrifying bon mots such as “I’ll stuff YOUR stocking!”, the pixilated poser can’t hold a candle to the real, eye-gouging legend of old. But it’s another pretty good example of America taking something foreign, and making it 100% less fun or interesting.
5) Krampus Brought Nazis and Christians Together For a Common Purpose
It’s true! If it’s one thing both Hitler and Christian fundamentalists can agree on, it’s hating Krampus. Not since Mel Gibson has there been such a confluence of anti-Semitism and religious fervor. A 1934 New York Times article headlined “Krampus Disliked in Facist Austria” declared Krampus “Strictly Verboten”: police were ordered to “arrest the devil on sight.” He was even labeled, I shit you not, “the work of wicked Social Democrats.” It’s like reading Glenn Beck’s Ancestry.com page.
But the Krampus tradition survived, as it did during the Inquistion when you’d be put to death by the Catholic Church for impersonating the devil. The New York Times goes on to call Krampus “harmless,” tell of his bringing “candies and delights” to children and remarks that “Krampus balls are the first sign of Christmas jollification.” It’s nice to see that even in 1934, The New York Times didn’t check its sources and made absolutely zero fucking sense.
4) Krampus Has More Terrible, Evil Brothers
It turns out, Krampus is just the tip of the overseas holiday misery gang-bang. Iceland folklore cites “13 Santa figures, known as the Jolasveinar,” each more terrible than the next. Like, there’s Hurdaskellir, or “The Door Slammer.” Then there are vicious elves named “The Window Peeper,” “The Sausage Snatcher,” and “The Doorway Sniffer.” Not in my most depraved, David Lynch nightmares can I imagine what any of these entail. But Bjork’s videos are starting to make a helluva lot more sense in comparison.
3) Krampus Will Sex Your Woman
In the 1960’s, Krampus briefly gave up pulling out children’s fingernails to get a little mud for his turtle. For whatever reason, the imp became wildly popular as some sort of sex-demon on foreign postcards. He got into some weird BDSM and fetish stuff, which isn’t too surprising given his history of chasing and spanking young virgins with whipping switches. Hey, it was a weird time and Krampus was doing a lot of Koke. Eventually he got some counseling and got back to making pre-pubescents gnash their teeth deep in the bowels of suffering.
2) A Mass-Produced Anti-Krampus Leaflet Went Nowhere
“Last week, the head of Vienna’s kindergarten system warned parents that the effect of an interview with Krampus might well leave their children scarred for life,” says a 1953 Time Magazine article, titled “No Shit, Vienna Kindergarten System.” The magazine continues: “In a leaflet called Krampus Is an Evil Man, Dr. Ernst Kotbauer urged that his children be freed of the frightful cross-examiner. ‘There is too much fear in the world already… unemployment, high taxes, not to mention the atom bomb. Let’s begin by throwing out Krampus.'” Well, Hitler and the Spanish Inquisition couldn’t stop Krampus, so you can imagine what good a bunch of hippie Viennese doctors did (SPOILER: Krampus continued his countrywide march of terror, unabated).
1) Krampus Merchandise is Hotter Than a Burning 4-Year-Old!
Once the internet discovered Krampus, it was like the Flying Spaghetti Monster and LOLCats rolled up into one: a brand new ironic mascot for disillusioned, holiday-wary twenty and thirty-somethings. Krampus Beer is on the market, tons of worship websites (like Krampus.com, used to research this article), tons of t-shirts, a brand new book of Krampus postcards and a shit-ton of homemade Krampus wares at Etsy.com have ensured that Krampus will live forever. So suck it, Hitler!
Seasons Beatings to all, and to all a Gr?ss Vom Krampus!