DOES Christmas feel like it’s missing something? Maybe it’s Krampus.
A character from northern European folklore, Krampus is a sort of goat-legged devil with horns, a long sloppy tongue, a basket on his back and a bunch of birch rods in his hand. The basket is for carting off bad children and the birch rods are for giving them a bit of a smack, if required.
Krampus is Santa Claus’s darker twin, although in countries where he is put to work most people regard him as a figure of fun. Edgy fun, but fun all the same.
One reason we might need Krampus is that Christmas has become a bit too sugar-sweet. Children are told that if they are good, the jolly fat old Santa Claus – a kind of lapsed saint who once whittled knick-knacks for nice children but who now contracts to the highest bidders in the retail industry – will bring them expensive gifts.
Sadly, the being good bit has basically been lost in the spin cycle, and now even many of the naughtiest children in Western consumer society are liable to get too many gifts, spoiling the message entirely.
In Austria and other Krampus countries, Santa does his annual rounds with Krampus in tow. While the jolly one has good news for good kids, Krampus has the job of stuffing the bad ones into his basket and dragging them into the fires of hell. Or somewhere bad like that.
To my way of thinking this is a more balanced concept than our one-sided Christmas show. A bit more yin-yang, if you like. More carrot and stick, more action and consequence.
And while a lot of practising Christians (or people who go to church, at least) might initially object to the idea of adding another pagan figure to the accepted modern yuletide pantheon, it actually makes sense when you stop and consider.
The basic school scripture concept (the one many Christians never get past) says that if you follow the rules you will go to heaven and if you don’t follow them (or are born somewhere where you never find out about them) then it’s straight to hell to burn forever and ever. So, if the carrot doesn’t work for you, the stick is a handy back-up to keep you on the straight and narrow.
Translate the Christmas snowflake tinsel Santa story into school scripture talk and it’s clear that Santa on his own is at a tremendous disadvantage. It’s like those parents who threaten their kids with the withdrawal of some privilege if they do bad stuff, but then chicken out. What kind of lesson is that?
Add Krampus to the mix and the circle is complete. Be a bad kid and not only is there no Santa and no pile of presents under the tree, but a hairy and bad-smelling half-goat with a creepy long tongue is going to flog you with a stick, stuff you in a basket and remove you to a distant furnace where you will be incinerated for the rest of time.
Some European countries torture themselves over the whole Krampus thing. Is it good for children to have this awful threat waved over their heads? They don’t seem to worry about doing it to adults with the heaven or hell coin-toss, but that’s another story I guess.
The thing is, I can’t see modern Western kids being fazed by Krampus. I think they would be strong enough to handle the concept.
After all, every four-year-old these days has already seen all the Freddy Kruger movies, does the spooky Halloween thing, plays blood and guts shoot-em-ups on the game console that Santa brought last year and does pole dancing as a school sport. What difference is dirty old Krampus going to make?
Give Santa back his little helper now, and make Christmas a bit spicy.