Monday, November 19, 2012

The Dark Side of Christmas

Now that's one way of looking at things, right?  Maxine's perspective does give you something to think about.  However, let's look at what really has happened and the "darker" side of  Winter/Christmas celebrations.
Winter cold and the prospect of starvation and disease and even death certainly would strike the fear of the long, dark nights into the bravest of souls, hundreds, even thousands of years ago.  Before Christianity,  particularly in the Alpine regions, there were many "spirits" (as well as things that go bump in the night) that became available to poor huddled souls and could give comfort and favor through prayer, devotion and sacrifice.
These powerful entities were bigger than life and had bigger than life personalities which tended to run hot and cold.  In the simple lifestyles and mindsets of our ancestors, the fearsome balance between pleasing the protective gods and upsetting them teetered precariously from day to day and depended on the behaviors of the members of the clan or just on which side of the cloud the particular "god" happened to awake and get up on that morning.
One of the Christmas-related characters who most darkly monitored the behaviors of children during this time (parents of all times are constantly looking for fear-induced tactics to encourage good behavior) was Krampus ... a cloven-hoved devil of a guy with fangs, a serpentine red tongue, a hairy, matted fur coat (to keep him warm), ram's horns and switches and a bag to carry off young children who have misbehaved. 
Apparently, as the story goes, the snarly, smelly old beast thrived on the sweet flesh of a freshly dismembered, disobedient child to be savored al fresco in the back woods.  The threat of his appearance anywhere between December 5 (Krampus Night) and St. Nicholas' Day (6 December) through Christmas was the answer to every parent's dream to relieve themselves of unruly children, too excited  to sleep and too spoiled to listen otherwise to the rules and demands for "proper" behavior. 
Well, as fate may have it, even though the early Catholic Church disliked the idea of such a beast with such unholy, yet deeply sown cultural roots clamoring about the countryside, and holding the attention of its tender flock, it allowed Krampus to join into the Christian winter festivities by including him as a sidekick to St. Nicholas. 
In order to tame the powers of the beast without totally emasculating his historically significant personna, Krampus was allowed to walk submissively with St. Nicholas on December 6, wearing chains and bells about his waist, wrists and ankles and seek out and threaten only the naughty offenders. 
 He could hand out switches or coal to the bad children or even snatch their Christmas presents for himself.
Krampus still exists in this early form but others have moved into his place as Christmas traditions have been softened over the years and tweaked down through the cultures.  We see a sweeter companion such as Black Peter
 and even the Christmas elves who assist our Santa Claus have evolved from the earlier sinister old beast.
  However, never fear, Krampus continues to haunt the streets of  Austria (especially in Schladming, Styria),
Croatia, in the Czech republic, Switzerland, Germany and Hungary and Slovenia today in one form or another.  He may be known as Belsnickel, Pelznickel (in 19th century USA and in Canada and Nova Scotia), Knecht Ruprecht or Zwarte Piet (Belgium and the Netherlands).  And word has it that he is beginning to make more appearances here in the good old USA as time moves on.
So beware, naughty children, Krampus is on the prowl.  St. Nick may have your Christmas wishlist and is checking it twice to find out who is naughty or nice.  Just be sure Krampus doesn't get wind of your name if it isn't showing up on the "Nice" side of Santa this year ......
Krampus side of a Topsy-Turvy Doll Created byCarlin Davis

Just flip up the hairy coat of Krampus and Voila ....
St. Nicholas appears ...
St. Nicholas side of  the same Topsy-Turvy Doll Created by Carlin Davis


  1. That's some good research. I think Krampus needs to be more involved again. Perhaps there might not be as much whining anymore.

    1. Good point, Ross. Sometimes the old tried and true ways worked and might still work ... However, nowadays since Dr. Spock, I think childrearing has taken a different turn. I also feel that we have learned there are consequences for using fear management which seems to create more monsters than we started out with. I agree with you that less entitlement and more old fashioned family structure and respect for rich cultural traditions are keepers. Who knows? I've lived long enough to see many things come full circle .... Anyway, the research was fun and it's always a treat to dig deep and find the many reasons why people have reacted as they did in the past and to understand and learn from that rather than to be too quick to judge their actions. History always carries a lesson.

  2. Have never heard of Krampus... but I must agree, the times certainly have changed... Bringing a child up now day's is certainly a task all of it's own. I'm more of a simpleton, which is one of the things you've taught me... K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple Sister!!... thank you for yet another great reading!

  3. Thanks so much, Red! I think raising children differs with each generation. We learn more and have much more to teach our children about what we have learned and how they can learn from any mistakes they may make along the way ... we are all works in progress ...

  4. Fascinating! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Mondayschildprims! Glad you stopped by!