The Real Krampus (Have Yourself a Spooky Little Christmas)

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If you have never heard of the real Krampus, then you have not been paying attention. The new millennium has seen a revival of interest, in centuries-old Christmas cards, bearing the image of a demon, instead of Saint Nicholas. Half goat, and half devil, he has a number of outrageous punishments in store, this holiday season, for his list of naughty children.

Hel is the daughter of Loki, the trickster god of Norse mythology. The goddess Hel, presides in the underworld of ancient Scandinavia, below the roots of the great Ash tree, which dominates the universe. Krampus is the son of Hel, and his origin predates that of Christianity itself. Before there was a Santa Claus, there was a Krampus.

Krampus is now the star of more than a dozen Hollywood movies. He is the first horror villain of Yuletide. He even has his own stage musical, in which his overt threat is played down, in favor of a saccharine-sweet morality tale, complete with a happy ending, in which, like the "Grinch Who Stole Christmas", the antagonist is reformed.

Back in the day, when one of the leading causes of mortality was the bubonic plague, the celebration of Krampus was part of a traditional Christmas, in medieval Germany. For German children, the holiday was a day of judgment. A child might have been rewarded for being nice, receiving a gift in the name of the Bishop Saint Nicholas. However if the youngster had been likely to misbehave, the punishment would be more severe, than getting a lump of coal, in one's stocking.

In early centuries, the image of Krampus took on several different forms, but most shared some common physical traits, such as fangs, and a long and pointed tongue, and the horns, and cloven hooves of a goat. He was often depicted carrying the very chains, from which he was liberated, once a year. Sometimes he carried a bundle of sticks, branches of flexible birchwood, for use in a child's corporeal punishment. Sometimes Krampus appeared with a sack or a basket strapped to his back. This would not be a bag full of toys. The basket was used, to conduct especially bad children, on a one way trip to Hades, never to be seen again.

Like Santa's helpers, Krampus usually accompanied Saint Nick on his winter rounds, and he is not the only unsavory figure to have done so. He was only one of the European evil companions of Santa Claus, such as Bartel, Peiznickel, and Hans Muff, each of whom was ever ready, to dispense harsh discipline, as the counterpart to a reward from Santa. Over the ages, these figures morphed into characters more socially acceptable, becoming mischievous, rather than malicious. These are the characters, that evolved eventually, into Santa's elves.

Before the 1800's, for most of the public, Christmas was not a holiday that was quietly observed at home. It was observed with inebriated revelry, like Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The country of Austria has revived this tradition, with the celebration, on the night of December 5th, of the Krampus Parade. It is a procession of hundreds of revelers in Krampus costumes, some drinking schnapps, some breathing fire, some even patting the small heads, of the spectators' children.

The character of Krampus is becoming more popular all over the world. He is part of a pop culture trend in the United States, of celebrating Christmas in nontraditional ways.

Maybe the 25th December is becoming a Halloween for grownups. Maybe the skyrocketing popularity of Krampus, is just another response to the commercialization, of the birth of Christ... or perhaps, the generation that grew up reading Harry Potter was eager to worship a new idol, and the time was ripe, for the emergence of a Christmas beast.

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