05 December 2012

tongue, teeth, horns, hooves, chains, claws, Fun!

Today heralds the seasonal appearance of Krampus, sidekick to St. Nicholas and the bearer of rough justice for children who have distinguished themselves in some unfortunate and entirely regrettable way during the year.  While St. Nicholas dispenses gifts to good children, Krampus roots out the bad, beating them with switches and rusty chains before stuffing them into his basket where they may brood and sulk over their misfortune, marking the hours until they become a tasty snack.

Krampus is that endearing yule-thug whose origin is rooted in Germanic pre-Christian folklore.  His name is derived from the Old High German word for claw, Krampen, and with his large horns, cloven hooves and lolling red carpet of a tongue, he is indeed a terrifying sight.

On December 5th, he and St. Nicholas head out in search of children who are generously rewarded for their goodness or mercilessly punished for their appalling criminality.  Today, the tradition lives on in  Germany, Austria and throughout Eastern Europe as young men don their Krampus togs and rattle chains, menacing hapless victims.

So popular was this touching custom that an entire segment of the German holiday card market was once devoted to honoring Krampus.  Known as Krampuskarten, these cards typically feature an amiable holiday hello - Gruss vom Krampus! - Greetings from Krampus! - as well as some graphic depiction of the sort of vile torment he inflicts on youthful malefactors.

Perhaps out of concerns over being typecast as a child-hater, or perhaps because he's just irredeemably bad and awful, Krampus occasionally interferes with young lovers.  Frohliche Krampusnacht!

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