We all know how Santa Klaus operates. He makes his list of naughty and nice children. He obsessively re-checks that list to ensure no nice child is overlooked and no naughty child is unjustly rewarded. The he goes about giving presents to all the nice kids.
But what about the naughty ones? What happens to them?
We’ve heard about the lump of coal they get, which seems like quite a practical present, actually. I mean, you can use it to cook food right? I guess that’s of little consolation to a child who just received a lump of coal, while his or her brother or sister got that new toy everyone wants.
In Europe, there’s actually a dedicated public servant who handles the naughty portion of the list. And from the children I see running around, this guy has a much more difficult job than Santa. The naughty list is at least twice as long as the nice one.
This anti-Santa goes by Krampus. He’s got other names, too: Klaubauf, Bartl, Bartel, Niglobartl and Wubartl. He is not pleasant to look at, but then again, neither is Santa. Krampus looks like a cross between the devil and a goat. He is hairy and has a goat’s hooves and horns.
His tools include chains with bells, whips and birch branches. He carries these around with him and uses them on those naughty kids. Similar to Santa, he also carries a sack. But while Santa’s sack starts out full of advent toys and empties as he dispenses those toys, Krampus’ sack starts out empty and is filled with naughty children.
When his sack is good and full, he empties the sack into a washtub and drowns the children. Then he either eats them or just brings them to hell. Sounds like a pleasant guy, doesn’t he?
Despite his grumpy (and cannibalistic) disposition, Krampus is quite popular in Europe. He even features on many greeting cards, although he is generally depicted as a cartoonish figure these days. In the past he was depicted more realistically (realistic for a goat/demon, with one human foot and one hoof) and even a bit sexual.
Saint Nicolas is celebrated on December 6 in Europe. Krampusnacht (Krampus night) falls the day before. On this night Krampus prowls the streets looking for naughty kids. In certain areas, he goes out alone; in others he hunts with his friend Kris Kringle. I’m not sure why they team up for this, but I’m sure they have their reasons. Perhaps they were childhood friends and even thought their lives went in different directions, they still get together once a year to relive old times.
Many towns hold Krampuslaufen (Krampus runs) in which participants dressed like Krampus run through the streets while onlookers offer then schnapps. Because the only theing better than a child-eating demon is a drunk child-eating demon.
In some areas, Krampus hands out gold-painted twigs to families. These are meant to remind children that they really need to behave.
It should come as no surprise that Krampus has run afoul of the Catholic church. Not only does he eat children, he also comes from a pagan tradition. As a result, Krampus celebrations like the ones mentioned above have been strongly discouraged.
And it’s not just the church. In the 1930s, the ruling regime of Austria also discourages an type of Krampus-themed festivity. They even resorted to handing out pamphlets entitled: “Krampus is an Evil Man.”
None of this has resulted in a drop in popularity. Europeans love them some Krampus and festivities continue to this day. Some of them even made it across the Atlantic. German communities in the US have their own versions of Krampus celebrations.
In the end, Krampus is really just Santa’s assistant. He takes care of the naughty portion of Santa’s list, so that Santa can focus on the nice portion. Like any other entrepreneur, Santa has outsourced the least pleasant aspects of his job, so that he doesn’t heave to worry about them. Krampus might be taking his duties a bit too far, but isn’t that often the case when you outsource to a third party? Good help is hard to find.