Thursday, December 20, 2018

A Medieval Christmas Nightmare, THE KRAMPUS

It is the beginning of a new holiday season, and as usual I will include a post about the Krampus.  You may read last year’s post about this mythical creature and his companions.

Let’s get right to the Krampus, then to other Christmas legends which are similar. The Krampus is described as a large horned demon with a long-forked tongue, he carries birch sticks and chains.  He is often depicted with a knapsack on his back.  Many of these characteristics have a meaning or symbolism associated to them.
Krampus made an appearance at the recent
The immediate appearance of Krampus is that of the devil; His forked long tongue, horns and in some instances, he is described as having goat like legs and feet.

The birch sticks he carries is to beat bad children with.  Although, these sticks are good for hitting someone, they also carry a message.  There is a great symbolism of birch in ancient European history. Birch was associate with birth, renew, prosperity and a closeness to nature.  To Medieval Christianity, these items were seen as pagan, so it was natural to have an evil devil like creature like the Krampus to wield them as a weapon.

The chains themselves may have represented the capturing or enslavement of Krampus by St. Nicholas. This also could be the representation of humans dominating nature itself or of resisting evil.

As for the knapsack, that had a more practical meaning.  The Krampus would beat the children with his birch sticks or chains, but for the very bad an even worse fate waited for them. The Krampus would take these children, place them in his knapsack and take them back to hell, or eat them later.

Probably the most disturbing point of the Krampus is who he worked for.  The Krampus was a servant of St. Nicholas.  That’s right, Krampus would ride with Santa Claus in his sleigh doing his bidding and beating the children when ordered to.

So, imagine yourself a child on Christmas Eve.  You would probably not get much sleep considering you did not know what waited for you the next morning; either a present from St. Nicholas, or a beating (or worse) from the Krampus.

I wrote about some other Christmas characters similar to the Krampus in a previous post. Now, here are a few I have not mentioned previously or had glossed over.

Frau Perchta (also known as the female, or Mrs. Krampus) – A lot of her history is passed to us through the writings of Jacob Grimm and Lotte Motz, both historian of ancient tales and fables. She is described as having two forms, one beautiful (her name means the bright one), or an old ugly hag.  Her forms compare to her contradiction of character.

Perchta would enter a home and knew who had worked hard over the year.  If you had, you received candy, if not your stomach would be torn open and your intestines replaced with garbage and hay.

The Yule (or Christmas or Jólakötturinn) cat is another terrifying creature.  In Iceland there was a tradition that if you worked hard, you received new articles of clothing on Christmas Eve. The Yule Cat roamed the woods looking for those who had no new clothing, then tore them up and at them.

On nicer a note, Befana is a benevolent character. Also, portrayed as old and ugly, she actually delivers presents to good children.  Although, if you are bad, you get some coal.

Père Fouettard has a long past with St. Nicholas.  According to some legends, he killed and pickled 3 boys.  St. Nicholas put the boys pack together and resurrected them.  Afterwards, he captured Père Fouettard and his penance for his crime was to be St. Nicholas’s servant.  Naughty children are whipped by Père Fouettard.

I hope you do not get nightmares on Christmas Eve.  Remember, many traditions are not from one source, they are a combination of many over a period of time.  This is the wonderful thing about traditions, they give a connection to both the past and the future.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

W.A.Rusho is a professional wrestler, author and historian. You can reach him via email or his website.

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