And a Very Merry Krampus to You

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All month long I’m going to be hosting the posts of other people as part of my 2015 Giftmas Blog Tour. All the guest bloggers are welcome to write about anything they’d like so long as their post touched on a December holiday in some way, no matter how tangentially. The blog tour extends beyond my blog as well, and I will do my best to link to each external post from the here and share them on social media using the hashtag #GiftmasTour.

But wait! There’s more!

We’re also giving away a whole whack of prizes (check out the list here) which you can enter to win using the Rafflecoper code below. Whatever December holiday you celebrate (or don’t) winning a stack of books will make it better!

And a Very Merry Christmas Krampus to You

by Eileen Wiedbrauk

Krampus - in search of delinquent children, approaches a little boy during Krampusnacht in Neustift im Stubaital, Austria, on November 30, 2013.

For the past two years, whenever my friends, family, or the authors/editors I work with at World Weaver Press see a Krampus related article online or hear a Krampus bit of news, they immediately send it to me. My social media accounts floweth over with Eileen, have you seen this? Krampus links. But in early 2014, when editor Kate Wolford (Enchanted Conversation, Beyond the Glass Slipper, Frozen Fairy Tales) pitched to me the idea of World Weaver Press publishing an anthology of Krampus stories, I admit, I had no idea what she was talking about.

But a bit of Googling and a few conversations later, I was in love. Okay, I wasn’t quite in love—yet—but I was fascinated.

Krampus (also called Perchten or Tuifl) is a monster out of the Germanic Alpine tradition, and he’s been around for at least a thousand years—some sources say well over two thousand years—and specifically as a companion of St. Nick since the 16th century (or so the internet tells me). “His name comes from the German word krampen, which means claw. Some say he is the son of Hel from Norse mythology. Others say his physical features or even the chain and rusty old bells he wears come from other demonic-like creatures of Greek mythology” (source). Called by some “the Christmas Devil,” he’s not actually demonic in the religious sense of the word, at least no more than any other monster, troll, or yeti, or other pagan-roots creature from folklore. Although Krampus certainly has the horns and chains and sometimes hooves associated with depictions of the devil. He’s also coated in shaggy fur and his most defining feature after the horns is a very, very long tongue. Take a quick look at any Krampus and you have to wonder what sort of influence this critter had in the design of Orcs in Lord of the Rings. In fact, the differences between Orc cosplay and Krampus cosplay are subtle.

Yes, I just said Krampus cosplay.

There’s a tradition in Europe—particularly in Austria but it’s done elsewhere and is catching on in North America—of holding Krampuslauf or “Krampus runs” on December 5, also known as Krampusnacht, or Krampus Night. Here’s my favorite YouTube video of a Krampuslauf, this one is from Graz, Austria, in 2010:

You’ll notice that there are literally dozens of grown men and women dressed in head-to-toe Krampus costumes, there are even Krampus troupes (announced by the signs they carry). They growl, they hiss, rattle chains and clang cowbells, shake torches, and strike the crowd and each other with bundles of sticks. My favorites are the ones dragging oil drums, presumably with something burning inside given the amount of smoke they’re throwing off. Most notably, they interact with the crowd: scaring children, harrying adults, sneaking up and startling the unsuspecting, attempting to haul away kids and adults—whomever strikes their fancy. Yes, this parade of orc-like Christmas devils is something to bring your children to.

Krampus - Krampusnacht on November 30, 2013 in Neustift im Stubaital, AustriaYou want your kids to behave in the weeks before Christmas? No need to bribe them with Elf on the Shelf, just take them to a Krampus parade, and let them witness the monster that’s going to come take them away if they’re not well-behaved.

Having the anthology Krampusnacht: Twelve Nights of Krampus on our list and selling it while working the World Weaver Press table at conventions, I’ve see two reactions to the book: people who’ve never heard of Krampus and don’t understand why someone would want to use Christmas as a horror setting, and people who know and love Krampus like he’s part of the family. There’s no in between. The former group has given me the opportunity to refine my this-is-Krampus elevator speech:

Krampus is St. Nick’s counterpart. Where Santa gives out gifts to good kids, Krampus comes and deals with the bad kids. They don’t get lumps of coal—that’s getting off too easy—instead, Krampus comes and terrorizes them, maybe beats them with the bundle of birch sticks he carries, and if they’re really, really bad, he pops them into the basket he carries and hauls them away.

Usually, people get it at that point. I tend to leave off the part where he carries a bundle of sticks and a chain for the beatings. People tend not to react as well to that.

The other group of people—the Krampus fans—tell me all sorts of interesting things. They want to talk to me about the Krampus Ball they went to last year, or if I know where the nearest Krampus parade will be this year, or about how their German teacher did a lesson on Krampus, or—and this is my favorite—there’s the guy who picked up a copy of Krampusnacht from our table, and I asked him, “Are you familiar with Krampus?” and he says nothing, just pulls up the sleeve of his shirt revealing a Krampus-head tattoo complete with looong red tongue covering his bicep. He shrugs and says, “I’m a December baby.”

Krampus - Perchten festival in the western Austrian village of Heitwerwang, November 23, 2012And they ask me if I know about the Krampus movie coming out in December. There have been many Krampus movies, but most of them are low budget, cult horror flicks. This one appears to be a large budget, main stream horror flick. While their Krampus looks pretty cool—a huge, hulking horned shadow—the troubling thing is that Krampus is called “the shadow of St. Nicholas.” We’ll have to wait to see the film when it comes out, but I suspect it’s going to be a Krampus-as-antiSanta portrayal. Which isn’t really what the Krampus mythos is about. (Unless you follow the doctrine shouted at me by some I-am-Santa-Claus Twitter account in a barrage of Tweets claiming that he was not friends or co-workers with Krampus, in fact his job as part of the Holy Trinity was to oust the devil, i.e. Krampus. What I wanted to know—but knew better than to ask an already angry guy on Twitter—was if Santa Claus, a saint, was now part of the Holy Trinity, who did he bump out, the Holy Spirit or Jesus? But I digress.)

If you’re a fan of fantasy fiction, you know that all magic comes with a price. For every good or evil piece of the supernatural, there is a counterbalance. A universal ying and yang. Santa and Krampus are that way. The rewarding of good and the punishing of evil divided into two entities. This is what makes the Krampus mythos so cool to me—Krampus himself is not evil, but his job is dispatching evil by whatever means necessary. Just like Aragon, or the Knights of the Round Table, or any superhero or monster-slayer you can think of. He doesn’t go around taking random victims. He does only what is necessary to police society. What is disturbing, perhaps, is that through Krampus, we are admitting that there are human-monsters not just among adults, but among our children. If there weren’t children-monsters, we never would have come up with Krampus. But folklore and fairy tales are at their best when they disturb us and make us think.

Although I know no one who has to dig too far into their memory to come up with the image of a child-monster—insolent, cocky, cruel, harassing, full of sugar and spite, wanting more, more, more, demanding and criticizing in the same breath—who couldn’t use a visit from Krampus. Child-monsters who believe there is nothing in the world that can hurt them or rein them in, not parents, not their teachers (whom their parents will “talk to” should they dare discipline their child); they believe in the bloated, saccharine version of Christmas that disgorges great bounty evenly among the deserving and undeserving because that is fair. I may have been acquainted with a few of these over the years. Mostly teenagers who should have known better. It couldn’t hurt for any of them to be introduced to Krampus’s version of fair.

But if you’re a well-behaved, good person, you have nothing to fear from Krampus’s visit on December 5. In fact, he’s totally the kind of guy I could see sharing a drink with. If you can’t stay up that late, maybe leave out a beer and plate of sausage for him—seems more his style than milk and cookies.

KRAMPUSNACHT wrap around cover

Eileen Wiedbrauk (eileenwiedbrauk.com) is Editor-in-Chief of World Weaver Press and Red Moon Romance as well as a writer, blogger, coffee addict, cat herder, MFA graduate, fantasist-turned-fabalist-turned-urban-fantasy-junkie, Odyssey Workshop alumna, designer, tech geek, entrepreneur, kdrama devotee, avid reader, and a somewhat decent cook. She wears many hats, as the saying goes. Which is an odd saying in this case, as she rarely looks good in hats. She writes creepy fairy tales like this one and can be found on Twitter @eileenwiedbrauk.

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