Santa's Little Helper: The Myth and Menace of Krampus, Brother of the Grinch

The American public is, at heart, endearingly optimistic. Ours is a country founded on and replenished by big, irresponsible, doe-eyed dreams. It only follows that we'd create glittery, gleaming spectacles out of otherwise orthodox traditions.

Boy, do we celebrate! For damn near three months, Americans immerse themselves in seasonal soma. All our top-dogging, our cynicism, and our nastiness are easily sacrificed to the gods of holiday joy and commercial clamor.

With all this Ho, ho, ho! and mistletoe, it's no wonder the story of sinister Krampus was been wedged out.

Krampus is a goat-horned, pointy-eared mythical demon of late 19th century GermoAustriSlovenian folklore. An ominous Christmastime specter of black, wiry fur, cloven hoof, and talon foot, Krampus roams the street, slithering his long, piercing tongue of admonition to alpine children.

Krampus accompanies St. Nikolaus on his annual feast day (Dec. 6). Serving as the big guy's muscle, Krampus mercilessly beats bad boys and girls with birch switches and rusty chains. Truly horrendous children are collected in a sack or wooden basket and later tossed into the pits of hell. All the while, jolly old St. Nick doles out gifts to reward good, God-fearing — and presumably unobservant — children.

During the world wars, the preponderance of this frightening creature diminished and his image was relegated to penny postcards and novelty items. Yet, as with most holiday stories, mounting commercialization created a kind of miracle, and Krampus was thrust back into the European mainstream with renewed vitality. Now, annual festivals held on the eve of St. Nikolaus, called Krampuslauf, see processionals of intricate homemade Krampus costumes — a kind of “running of the Krampussen” or “SantaCon Gone Wild.”

Leave it to the Bavarians to forgo a white Christmas for the terror of abduction and corporeal punishment.

The icon isn't wholly unknown stateside either. His fandom extends to U.S.-sponsored Krampuslaufs, the occasional metal band, ironic Aryan clothiers, and even social media.

Let us also not forget Krampus' heart-of-gold, gothic half-brother, the Grinch, and his many endeavors.

Cutting Christmas with a sprinkling of the morose is a way for some to drink in its euphoria without feeling like sheep brought to slaughter. Krampus might not be your cup of eggnog, but for some he's the savior to celebrate this holiday season. And what's more American than that?

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