Saturday, December 5, 2015

Don't Fear the Krampus

The tradition of Krampusnacht is celebrated all over Germany and Austria. On the nights leading up to December 6th - which is tomorrow, by the way - people dress up in frightening costumes and roam the streets, pretending to terrorize local residents and abduct children. According to the krampus legend, Saint Nicholas comes to give gifts to children who have been good, but krampus comes to punish or take away those who have been bad.

When the American version of Christmas was created by Macy's department store in the 1920's, the store decided that krampus was a little too grisly and got rid of that part of the story. But the tradition endures overseas, and in some places is enacted quite extravagantly with amazing costumes, parades, and so forth.

This year, the Austrian village of Virgen has some new arrivals - a group of refugees from Syria and Iraq. Recently, community representatives met with the refugees to explain the tradition, so they wouldn't completely lose it when, say, out of nowhere they encountered an apparent horde of monsters roaming the streets.

Officials in the village of Virgen worried about how new arrivals from the Middle East would react to the local tradition of meeting so-called "Christmas Devils" who pretend to abduct kids. "In the first week of December, the good, gift-bringing St. Nicholas wanders through the streets with his evil, scary companions called Krampus," Kurt Glaenzer, the head of a local Krampus club, explained to NBC News.

Some of Virgen's around 2,000 residents wear animal skins and don carved wooden masks on nights leading up to St. Nicholas Day on December 6. Loud bells tied to their costumes clank through the darkness of the night as the creepy creatures wander the streets searching for poorly behaved children. "When the Krampus roams the town, he often wrestles people to the ground, symbolizing the abduction of bad children," Glaenzer added.

Fearing the spectacle would be misunderstood, community representatives last week visited the 22 migrants — including 12 children — who have been housed in the Alpine village since the end of October. They were shown the frightening masks and given insight into the event's history with the help of an Arabic translator. The verdict? The newcomers had "lots of fun," according to social worker Nicole Kranebitter. The migrants "will now know what to expect when St. Nicholas and the Krampus creatures knock on their door," Kranebitter added.

Krampus may finally be making his way to America, as a new movie about the monster has been released for the holiday season. Unfortunately, according to this review, the film takes so many liberties with the myth that no matter how well done it is, I probably could never enjoy it.

The mash-up of krampus with Macy's version of American Christmas leads to a pretty disturbing implication, that if you lose the "Christmas Spirit" - that is, the urge to buy a bunch of expensive crap as gifts because money = love - a giant monster will show up to kill you and all of your neighbors.

Krampus is part of European folklore going back centuries if not millennia, and the one thing he is not is a deadly enforcer for the department store cartels. That's just terrible, and brings the commercialization of Christmas to a new and frightening level. Let's hope that this idea is one tradition that's not here to stay.

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Miles Gunter said...

I saw the movie and enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. It's not about a giant monster showing up to kill you if you aren't a good materialist. In the movie, the Christmas spirit is about being generous and caring for one another. Materialism never enters into the equation.


The young son still believes in Santa and writes him a letter asking for his parents to have a better relationship and that his visiting Red state in laws not suffer as much financially. The letter is stolen by one of his older cousins who reads it at the dinner table, humiliating the son. A fight ensues and he gets the letter back. Later in the son's room, the Dad encourages the son to still send the letter and maintain his faith in Santa, Xmas etc. But instead the son rips up the letter and tosses it out the window, hence summoning Krampus and his helpers.

Yes, it is a Hollywood bastardization of the legend; but the thing I liked about it is that thematically, Krampus is a Xmas movie. I liked that it incorporated traditional Xmas themes and classic Xmas movie tropes. It doesn't just use Xmas as a prop like Black Christmas (which I love but it isn't really about Xmas)

Scott Stenwick said...

I realize that the movie is never going to say it outright, but the fact is that the American version of Santa was simply created by a department store to sell toys. So you don't have to dig real deep to connect "faith in Santa" with commercialism. That's where all the differences between how Americans and Europeans celebrate Christmas comes from. And if somebody in your neighborhood loses "faith in Santa," Krampus kills you? I can't help but find all the implications of that pretty disturbing.

Now I have read a couple of other reviews of the movie and apparently it's pretty well-done, especially given that it was apparently made on a ridiculously small budget. I always applaud filmmakers who can pull that off, and I hope the film does well. I'm just a little too much of stickler for the real folklore for the bastardization not to drive me nuts - but I'm glad you and presumably other folks are enjoying it.