December 6th is Krampusnacht, the Night of Krampus.
There seems to be little doubt as to his true identity for,
in no other form is the full regalia of the
Horned God of the Witches so well preserved.
The birch – apart from its phallic significance –
may have a connection with the initiation rites
of certain witch-covens;
rites which entailed binding and scourging
as a form of mock-death.
The chains could have been introduced in a Christian attempt
to ‘bind the Devil’ but again
they could be a remnant of pagan initiation rites.
~Maurice Bruce, ‘The Krampus in Styria’, 1958
The name Krampus is rooted in Proto-Germanic *klawo, meaning ‘claw’; the towering figure – seven to nine feet tall – can be found from the early 1600s. Where St. Nicolas rewards good children, Krampus metes out punishment. More than a lump of coal, Krampus carries a bundle of birch switches that he uses to whip wayward children and adults. Here in the United States, we talk casually of Santa’s ‘good list’ and ‘bad list’, while in Europe, Krampus is in charge of that bad list.
To take part in Krampusnacht is an experience. The costumes are kept in secret all year, so that no one in the town where you may live, is aware of your dark, hairy, horned, and sinister side. Parading through the streets, Krampus snarls, gnashes, growls, barks, and howls .. all to the delight of young and old alike. Yet, they are also known to pull grown men from the crowd and lash them with glee.
Krampus also carries a sack that he taunts the brave with. If you count yourself lucky, you can try to steal a gift from that bag, but be warned: Krampus will fight you for it!
More than one night, Krampusnacht festivities can go on for days, with traditional foods, drinks, and sweets. If you enjoy Halloween, then you may well enjoy Krampus Night.
Much has been said of Krampus’ origins, yet little remains known. His other names include: Perchten and Knecht Ruprecht, Certa and Black Peter, Pelznickel and Schmutzli, and is said to be the son of none other than Hel – the Germanic Goddess of Death and the Underworld.
Likewise, the Krampus heritage is part of the European customs of Mummery, or traditional and seasonal folk play. These practices can be traced back tens of thousands of years. The figure is most certainly a representation of Old Man Winter, the Green Man, and the Horned God of Old Europe. And though particular to Europe, the idea of the Wildman can be found around the world:
-2,000 BCE, Enkidu the “Wild Man”, from the Epic of Gilgamesh.
-600 BCE, King Nebuchadnezzar, Old Testament, Book of Daniel, is punished by God and turned into a “hairy beast”.
-1st Century CE, Etruscan Silvans and Roman Silvanus, both, are tutelary gods of woods and wild places.
-217 BCE, the Roman Saturnalia, a Winter Solstice celebration, is a time of “wild beasts” and frivolity.
-4th Century CE, Many Germanic tribes, such as the Goths and Vandals, continue their Old Ways in remote Alpine villages where the Church cannot prosecute them.
-1250 CE, Konungs skuggsjá, an Old Norse text on politics and morality, details a “Horned Beast”, and a “Wild and Hairy Man”.
-1390 CE, Sir Gawayn and þe Grene Knyȝt, features the Woodwose, or ‘Woodsman, Wildman’.
-1810 CE, The Brothers Grimm, in Deutsches Wörterbuch and Mythologie, preserve and catalog several stories that feature a Krampus character.
-19th Century CE, Holiday postcards from Austria, Germany, and other parts of Europe feature Yule and Christmas greetings with Krampus, St. Nicholas, and other companions.
-Also, the Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch introduce Pelznickel to the United States, particularly in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, New York, and Indiana.
-2004 CE, An Adult Swim episode introduces Krampus. My favorite is Krampus Nacht.
-2007 CE, Supernatural, the television show, had A Very Supernatural Christmas episode that featured Krampus.
-2009 CE, The Colbert Report, did a skit entitled The Blitzkrieg on Grinchitude: Hallmark & Krampus.
-2013 CE, The television show Grim has an episode entitled Twelve Days of Krampus.
Finally, if you want to celebrate tonight: Put your shoes outside overnight. In the morning, they will be filled with sweets if you have been good (marzipan and sugar cookies are traditional), and coal if you have not. Otherwise, mix yourself a nice warm cup of Krampus Grog:
1 liter red wine
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cinnamon stick
a pinch of mace and saffron (optional)
Wash and dry the lemon and orange. Insert 10 cloves into each. Put the wine, sugar, lemon, orange and cinnamon (and the mace and saffron tied in muslin, if you are using them) into a pan. Cover and bring slowly to the boil. Turn down the heat and allow the wine to simmer very gently for approximately. 1 hour. Remove the spices and the fruit. Heat the wine again, but do not let it boil. Serve in heat-resistant glasses.