Coming from the German word “krampen” (claw), Krampus is Santa’s other half. The yin to his yang, if you will. Santa’s shadow, his dark side; the balance in the force.
Most often pictured with an impressive set of twisted goat horns, cloven feet, a Laffy Taffy-like lolling and pointed tongue, horsehair whips and chains, and handcuffs, Krampus’ gig is the terrifying opposite of coming down the chimney with gifts. Instead, he spanks and whips all the naughty children with birch switches and, for real, horsehair whips. After sufficient corporal punishment has been dealt, he chains them up, puts them in a basket and takes them off to Krampus Hell for a whole year!
It seems to be working out well. Krampus has been banned a few times throughout history because, you know, he’s super scary for kiddos. But he is gaining popularity these days because any reason to put on a mask and run around like a freak is totally in.
Since 2014, a group of folklore-loving revelers in Norman have honored the tradition of Krampus with an annual Krampuslauf. It’s like Santacon, but for Krampuses. (For a pretty good rundown of the history and cultural movement behind the renewed interest in this lesser Norse figure, see this article, referenced in the About page of the Norman group’s Facebook event page.)
Krampus parties where in full effect in Los Angeles as well, with former MAINSite Contemporary Art Gallery maven Christian Pitt doing her best to avoid a birch-stick beating while also snapping some pics of the festivities.
Krampus: The movie
On Dec. 4, Krampus mania hit critical mass with the release of Krampus, a holiday season horror film designed to cash in on the growing anti-Christmas spirit that fuels the fascination and frivolity surrounding Krampuslauf.
Starring Adam Scott and Toni Collette, users on RottenTomatoes.com collectively rated it at 62 percent, making it a fair cut above previous holiday horror flicks such as Silent Night, Deadly Night, Silent Night, Bloody Night, and Santa’s Slay. Perhaps when it comes to Christmas killing, audiences prefer to leave Kris kringle out of the picture.
On a related note …
Ancient folklore is rough, man! Chains and child-nabbing? A whole year living in Krell as punishment for your A-hole behavior? Oh wait. As a mother of a toddler, I get it now. I know who thought this up: parents. Ancient folklore is genius!
But for those of you for whom Krampus is a little too terrifying for a season most oft-remembered as a time of warm and fuzzy memories, there are some less nightmare-inducing substitutes. For example, Belsnickel hails from the Rhineland Germany and offers treats to good children while also punishing the bad with a pelting from his switch. For fans of The Office, you may remember Dwight surprising the workplace with his enthusiastic rendition.
Think of these characters not like anti-Santas, but more like stepbrothers, bros from other Joes, working alongside Jolly Saint Nick to keep bratty kids in check.