Krampusnacht, the Night of Krampus, is December 5th. For those of you unfamiliar with Krampus, he is a horned deity of pre-Christian European paganism who is commonly associated with Saint Nicholas. Considered the "Anti-Claus" in popular mythology, while Saint Nick goes around on Christmas Eve rewarding good children Krampus accompanies him to beat the bad children with switches and sticks and to steal away any child who is still awake when the duo arrives. Like most legends and fairy tales, the creature is used as a way to further encourage children to behave.
More recently, Krampus has become the physical embodiment of a societal change in the celebration of Christmas, Yule, and other winter holidays. We're all well aware of how and why Christianity appropriated and rewrote large swaths of Pagan rites and rituals to conform to their newfound faith. We're equally aware that, in recent decades, Neopaganism has begun breathing new life into those ancient traditions. Meanwhile, corporations have made a billion dollar industry using these festivals and religious ceremonies with there overarching theme of "peace on earth and good will towards men" to exploit the inherent greed inside most of us. Where these holidays used to consist of thankfulness for simply surviving the harvest and wishing prosperity and wealth for you and yours into the coming year, the focus has become who can buy the best present, decorate with the best lights, and get the best deals before the new year begins.
As people are wont to do, the exploitation of insecurities and greed has led to a lot of disenfranchisement with the season and Krampus, like any good Pagan god, has come to save the day. An entire generation is now celebrating this Anti-Claus who doles out some much needed justice to the wicked and inspires us all to be good for goodness sake...or else. Ancient traditions affiliated with the creature have taken on modern contexts and have grown steadily in popularity. The annual Krampusnacht celebrations in Austria and Germany will involve the devilish creatures running down the streets, rattling chains, swinging branches, and playing loud, raucous music into the night to the amusement and terror of the huge crowds drawn.
In horror cinema and culture Krampus has become a sort of boogeyman who has taken on a familiar role in the slasher film. Replacing the crazed killer as a supernatural archetype who dispenses an absolute kind of justice without consideration for any sort of individual deviation or logic the being has become something entirely different and terrifying.
Krampus represents everything that is right about the holiday season. The revival and evolution of old traditions, traditions that exist both within and without of the commonly perceived canon of Christmas lore. As a symbol of opposition to consumerist greed and decadence Krampus offers a figure that can be rallied behind. Of course, the merchandising and corporate usurpation of that figure is already steadily happening, it will still be some time before we see A Christmas Story and A Christmas Horror Story played as a double feature anywhere in the mainstream. So, whether you celebrate this night for it's spiritual significance, it's traditional values, or simply as an excuse to embrace something scary in the midst of all the candy canes and jolly little elves, here's wishing you a Happy Krampusnacht!
Dan is an author, editorialist, podcaster, and horror culture & lifestyle correspondent from the Southeast. You can find Dan's stories at Danno of the Dead Blog and through PDI Press.