Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Dark Side of Christmas

A Krampus Card
      Krampus is a mythical creature recognized in Alpine countries.  According to legend, Krampus accompanies Saint Nicholas during the Christmas season, warning and punishing bad children, in contrast to St. Nicholas, who gives gifts to good children. When the Krampus finds a particularly naughty child, it stuffs the child in its sack and carries the frightened child away to its lair, presumably to devour for its Christmas dinner.
      In the Alpine regions, Krampus is represented as a beast-like creature, generally demonic in appearance. The creature has roots in Germanic folklore. Traditionally young men dress up as the Krampus in Austria, southern Bavaria, South Tyrol, Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia during the first week of December, particularly on the evening of 5 December, and roam the streets frightening children with rusty chains and bells. Krampus is featured on holiday greeting cards called Krampuskarten. There are many names for Krampus, as well as many regional variations in portrayal and celebration.
      Europeans have been exchanging greeting cards featuring Krampus since the 1800s. Sometimes introduced with Gruß vom Krampus (Greetings from the Krampus), the cards usually have humorous rhymes and poems. Krampus is often featured looming menacingly over children. He is also shown as having one human foot and one cloven hoof. In some, Krampus has sexual overtones; he is pictured pursuing buxom women. Over time, the representation of Krampus in the cards has changed; older versions have a more frightening Krampus, while modern versions have a cuter, more Cupid-like creature. Krampus has also adorned postcards and candy containers.
      Alternative names for Krampus are:
  • In France's Alsace region, Krampus is known as Hans Trapp.
  • In some older parts of Germany he is referred to as "Grampus"
  • Klaubauf is used throughout the whole of Austria.
  • Bartl or Bartel, Niglobartl, and Wubartl are used in the southern part of Austria.
  • In Hungary, he is Krampusz.
  • In Slovenia he is called Parkelj
  • In the Czech republic he is known as the Čert. 
  • In the town of Andrista in Val Camonica in the southern central Alps he is called Badalisc. 
The Hans Trapp character in a 1953 photograph
 taken in Wintzenheim, Alsace.
A stylized Krampus postcard from the 1940s.

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