Christmas isn’t all cute and cuddly coke-swigging men in red outfits with white beards, you know.
Iceland, for istance, has its motley bunch of Yule Lads, some of whom are not the pleasantest of chaps. There’s one character who beats those boys into a cocked hat, however: Krampus (his name should be spoken in a deep voice with an evil cackle).
He is the devil-Santa and demonic companion of St Nicholas, popular in alpine countries such as Austria, Bavaria, Croatia and South Tyrol.
Good children, as everyone knows, are rewarded at Christmas time, but Krampus serves as punishment for the naughty ones. On 5th December, the evening before the Feast of St Nicholas, he steals them – whether to beat them up or eat them or just scold them, nobody knows.
He’s pictured with a long red tongue, cloven hooves, fur and horns and carries a bunch of birch twigs, all the better to hit children with. He’s also known to rattle bells and chains. He’s quite a character.
There’s a thriving industry behind Krampus. T-shirts:
Cards called Krampuskarten that have been exchanged since the 1800s:
And masks that young men wear along with their furry suits to go round scaring the bejesus out of youngsters and partaking of alcohol on December 5th.
It’s thought that he dates from pre-Christian times, being the Christian version of the satyr, and brought into the Christian fold by having him accompany St Nicholas on his rounds.
The Inquisition tried to stamp out these goat-figures, as did post-war Austria, but such a good character is not going to disappear even though he may seem a bit frightening in these soft times.
By the end of the twentieth century he’d come back into fashion and by all accounts is doing very well, thank you very much.