Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Krampus

Growing up in a family with German values and traditions, Chirstmas was a bipolar holiday for the toddlers. I'm not talking about North and South poles, but salvation and damnation, gifts and beatings. Santa in our family went by the name St. Nicholaus (my name sake) he was much like any other santa I meet in my time. He was loving, full of joy, dressed in red... an overall wonderful symbol of the holiday spirit. Western tradition has Santa delivering coal to the bad and gifts to the good.

In pre-Christian Alpine tradition (what most Germans follow) Santa's job was split, the jolly old elf still came with gifts but he was accompanied by an escort, Krampus. An evil, boozy, goat-horned, 7foot tall incubus was santa's sidekick. Santa gave a gift and Krampus was right there with a beating and a bad dream for the child. On our families Christmas Eve Grandpa Herman was Santa and Uncle Wally (RIP) played Krampus. This tradition was survived in our family for just a few years, my older brother James and I experianced it. Our parents once pregnant with their third son decided to boycott the family party on account that beating their 8-year old (James) and 3-year old (me) was not the best way to spend the holiday.
Today the tradition of Krumpus morphed into a holiday bacchanal, where scaring kids takes a back seat to heroic bouts of drinking. Krampus festivals throughout Alpine communities kick off the holiday season with townspeople dressing in Krampus costumes, running rampant through the streets and putting a scare in the youngsters. After the children have been given a proper fright to ensure they stay on the straight and narrow, the rowdy Krampus are rewarded with booze. The fest then changes to an adult affair inwhich thousands of drunken goat-men roam the town's streets, harassing the town's young women.

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