Raising the Dead: A Resurrection of History & Myth – Santa’s Dirty Little Secret

You better watch out,
You better not cry,
Better not pout,
I’m telling you why:
Santa Claus is coming to town.
He’s making a list,
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out
Who’s naughty and nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town.
  He sees you when you’re sleeping.
He knows when you’re awake.
He knows if you’ve been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake!
Oh, you better watch out!
You better not cry.
Better not pout,
I’m telling you why:
Santa Claus is coming to town.
Santa Claus is coming to town!

An innocent Christmas Carol.  One most parents in our hemisphere sing along with their children during the holiday season each year, never putting much thought into the song or it’s creepy overtones.  Yet it’s most certainly there.  He sees you when you don’t see him.  He knows what you’re doing. You better watch out! Santa has a dark side – one that most children in America never hear about, and that dark side has a name: Krampus.

Traditionally, Krampus was a counterpart to Saint Nicholas.  Based on his Pan-like appearance, he was likely another Pagan practice merged into the Christian Christmas holiday traditions like decorated trees, yule logs, and winter Bacchanalias.  An early version of Good Cop/Bad Cop, St. Nicholas would deliver treats and gifts to good girls and boys while Krampus, an incubus demon, would deal with the naughty ones.  Saint Nick and Krampus were partners, maybe even buddies – yep, you read that right, dear old Santa used to hang out with a sex demon.  Wrap your head around that for a minute or three.

St Nick and Krampus, Good Cop / Bad Cop

On Krampusnacht (“Krampus Night”) December 5th – also the Eve of St. Nicholas Day – young men in Austria, Hungary, northern Germany, and other central/northern European regions would dress as Krampus – rattling chains and ringing bells through the streets in order to remind young children that they need to be good, or else.  The scare was effective, for while our modern Santa punishes children by leaving coal in their stockings instead of presents, Krampus had different tactics.

Krampus greeting card - "Greetings from Krampus"

Krampus greeting card - "Greetings from Krampus"

The name Krampus comes from an old Germanic word for “claw,” Krampen.  Known by different names in different cultures (Knecht Ruprecht, Klaubauf, Pelzebock, Schmutzli, and more), old Krampus is a nasty bugger – with his phallic tongue and unseemly predilections.  He is most often depicted as a black-haired demon, horned, with one cloven and one human foot; or as a traditional “devil” character with red skin, horns, and a tail & pitchfork.  In Austria he sometimes appears more monstrous and hairy – almost like a creature from of Lord of the Rings.

Photo Courtesy Kerstin Joensson

Photo Courtesy Kerstin Joensson

Just like Santa’s magical toy-giving bag, in nearly all cultures Krampus carries with him his trade tools; a basket on his back, chains, and a “switch” made of birch twigs.  Switches were used long before paddles to carry out corporal punishment, and birch was Krampus’s weapon of choice.  He used it to punish unruly children, painfully reminding them to be better behaved.  The basket and chains were used to carry away the naughtiest of the children… to burn in Hell for all eternity.  Krampus was not messing around and children were actually afraid of him.  Gee, I can’t imagine why!

Krampus Delivers Babies to Hell

Krampus Delivers Babies to Hell

It’s fairly easy to grasp why the Krampus story never caught on in the States.  What we know as “Santa Claus” is a combination of Sinterklaas/St Nicholas history and British Father Christmas tales – filtered through the Great Melting Pot of our multi-cultural nation.  Somewhere along the line we dropped Santa’s “bad cop” partner and replaced it with a violence-free Gift of Coal as the worst holiday punishment for a naughty child.  Which is probably a good thing considering the occasionally lurid depictions of Krampus.  Some stories of him suggest that young children knew of the threat of sexual violence, though the sexual aspect was more intended as a warning to older children – young ladies and gentlemen in the throes of dangerous hormones.

Santa's Incubus Demon Buddy at Work?

Santa's Incubus Demon Buddy at Work?

Whatever his origins or motivations, modern celebrations of Krampusnacht are still going strong – and have gotten more popular in recent years.  Most celebrations include detailed & terrifying costumes of Krampus, lots of alcohol consumption, and many a spanked rear-end.  Sounds like my kind of party!

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About De7en

Don't let the day job fool you, this computer consultant knows the Ooky Spooky. De7en was weaned by Jaws, suffered through puberty with Carrie, and tore into adulthood hand-in-glove with Freddy. From foreign frights and classic cuts to gallons of gore and more extreme fare, De7en is always ready to dig into something fresh.