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Krampus: Evil St. Nicholas

Krampus, in case you didn’t know, is the evil counterpart to St. Nicholas; often pictured as a devil-like creature who whisks children away to either beat them or eat them if they’re bad during the year. He’s mostly celebrated these days with elaborate dressing up on his night, Krampusnacht, on December 6th. It’s primarily a drinking holiday and a chance to scare kids with a costume. The most interesting aspect of the Krampus, to me, is his association with the commercialization of Christmas and the ways in which the Krampus is conceptualized.  

Largely, the commercialization of Christmas association comes from the movie, Krampus (2015); this is a story about a family who have internal problems with each other and in a fit of anger, the youngest (and true believer in Santa/Christmas), rips up his letter to Santa which unleashes the Krampus on his family, killing them one by one.  The first scene of the movie is a few minutes of total chaos. People are throwing each other out of the way and fighting over presents; this part seems to communicate that Christmas isn’t really about the sacred or about family anymore, “like it once was” (a concept that I feel is rooted in what people think is tradition instead of what is since when Christmas used to be this boisterous, rowdy alcoholic celebration before Victorian Christmas had its say, making it a family affair). Christmas, to me, has two parts as a festival: the secular decoration and the sacred/family aspect. In American culture, they exist side by side and sometimes independently of each other. There’s even this idea that the decor that’s related to Christmas is a blatant attack on the Church and family aspects of Christmas, since it doesn’t incorporate Jesus or the Nativity scene into the Santa/reindeer/gingerbread house/lights, causing the Church association of this holiday to fade into the background. I think that’s a little dramatic, considering most people incorporate both (if religious) and that our Victorian notions of Christmas are what’s informing how we celebrate it, not an attack or rebellion against the sacred. I do think Christmas at times is a business because it’s incredibly expensive to celebrate it. Yet, Christmas has festival aspects in the way it’s celebrated (rituals, mostly). 

I also think the way Krampus is conceptualized is fascinating; he’s the dark counterpart to St. Nicholas (who is associated with Santa) and has an appearance much like Satan or perhaps a “quasi-Satan”/”safe Satan”.  He appears not to be evil, but simply doing his job in punishing the bad kids in the lore, which functions to scare kids into behaving or “the Krampus will get you!” We also have boogeymen and legends meant to control the actions of children, which is a group Krampus is heavily associated with. I think Krampus is viewed more positively than Satan because he’s again, just doing his job, and the festival surrounding him is more about fun than anything else. It isn’t supposed to be scary for kids or adults, but a way for everyone to engage in the winter carnivalesque culture (which is the real tradition of Christmas, as mentioned before). There’s also this “well, it’s your own fault”/sinning aspect to Krampus; Satan is associated with tempting a person to sin, making him a much darker figure. Krampus shows up because yousinned in the lore, which is one reason why I think he’s more ambivalent even though he’s said to beat the crap out of kids/drag them to hell/eat them, depending on the story.  

 

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Original post by Victoria Jaye, Canvas, Mar 26 2021 

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