Wednesday, December 1, 2010

You Better Watch Out...

Schwarzes horn von Weihnachts Krampus (inspired by Germanic legend) – Vintage apothecary jar with lid; genuine ram’s horn; mica flakes, faux snow; shattered antique glass German Christmas ornaments; antique glass German St. Nicholas ornament; white wax; tarnished silver tinsel; antique sleigh bell; wired French ribbon; antique German Christmas Krampus postcard; antique rusted chains; switches

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why…

Nope, sorry, it isn’t Santa Claus comin’ to town…it’s the Krampus.

The what? I heard you ask.

The Krampus, jolly old St. Nicholas’ original traveling companion. See, in olden days, in the gloom of the Black Forest in Germany where the legends began, St. Nicholas, or Sinterklass as he was known back then, was a kind, beneficent figure, bestowing gifts upon all good little children everywhere—you know the kind, the ones who say their prayers at night, who eat their vegetables, the ones who listen to Mama and Papa, who do as they are told. But it seems jolly old St. Nick had issues with punishing those kids that made his naughty list. So he hired a terrifying black-furred, black-horned, black-hoofed creature, with bulging yellow eyes and one really long, lolling pink tongue to do his dirty work.

Yup, that’s the Krampus—and he gets his name from his set of spiky, feral claws.

It was the Krampus’ job to chastise the disobedient, the insubordinate, the disrespectful and the rebellious into submission. This was done with the sharp switches he carried. And if after being violently thrashed the miscreant was still unrepentant, the Krampus lugged a great big wicker basket and rusty chains around with him and pop! into that basket would go the shackled, wailing brat and he or she would then be the recipient of a one-way trip to the infernal regions.

In short, he was the bad cop to Santa’s good.

Sometimes the Krampus was lenient; if a child had been just a wee bit too mischievous the past year, a lump of coal would be left as a warning of what they would be stoking in the hellfires below if that bad behavior didn’t improve—and fast!

As the stream of German, Austrian, and Northern European refugees disembarked on America’s shores, they brought with them their customs, those involving the keeping of Christmas being the most prevailing. But the fainthearted, lily-livered folk in the New World couldn’t stomach the darker traditions of the Old, and so the Krampus’ immigration papers were refused at Ellis Island and he was deported back home.

Even St. Nick himself got watered down from imposing holy figure in miter and robes to a small, rotund elf in a red flannel suit. After all, that merry old elf with the white beard and cherry cheeks, whose belly shook like a bowlful of jelly with each giggle was so much easier to take—and so much more marketable. Who’d want an inky devil hawking Coca-Cola to the masses? Or climbing down their chimney flue in the middle of the night. And let’s face it, Herr Krampus would be a real tough fit into a season’s recitation of “The Night Before Christmas”…more Edgar Allan Poe than ho, ho, ho…

…and he probably wouldn’t have gotten on too well with those flying reindeer anyhow.

Gone are the days of being borne off to Hell in a hand-basket; the worst punishment Santa seems to be able to manage now is to dole out underwear and socks.

But as history teaches us, old habits die hard, and the Krampus has clung on tenaciously with his claws, refusing to give in to obscurity. He became a prominent figure during the Christmas postcard craze that hit Europe from the late-1800s to the beginning of World War I; his evilly grinning visage bearing “Grüß vom Krampus,”—“Greetings from Krampus”—arriving in the post to households everywhere. And he even has his own eve of festivity, Krampusnacht, the 6th of December, where young male townsfolk are encourage to dress up, their Krampus costumes made from sheepskin, rams’ horns, and a switch or two that they use to swat children and unsuspecting young ladies.

Just goes to show, you can’t keep a horny old goat down for long.

So, remember, the Krampus is still there, lurking in every shadow where the flickering firelight and guttering candle flame can’t reach…and maybe those sleigh bells are in fact the jingling of rusted chains…and maybe Rudolph didn’t make those hoof-prints in the snow…and maybe those twinkling bulbs on the tree might just be a pair of bright yellow eyes blinking…

…and that often-sung holiday tune suddenly takes on a whole new meaning…

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!

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.