I just wanted to thank everyone, including Dr. C for a great semester, and I hope you all have a wonderful break. Below is my project narrative. Enjoy!
Krampus: A Wikipedia Project Narrative
It all began on August 24, 2018. However, the wheels did not start moving until sometime in October. Admittedly, I struggled for a month trying to pin point what topic I wanted to discuss. Looking back on it, I was truly thinking too hard. Because the answer was in front of me even before the semester had started. Since 2014, I have been curious to learn more about the folklore around the Christmas devil known as Krampus. Its origins are definitely pre-Christian, as well as the festivities surrounding the creature’s legacy. But I knew that if I dived in head first, there could be something very rewarding about this experience.
On a Friday afternoon during Fall Break, I messaged Dr. Campbell and requested to research and write about the Krampus. Dr. Campbell advised me that it would be best to check out the Talk page section of the Krampus Wikipedia. It’s a good thing I did, because there seems to have been a considerable amount of chatter over the last few years on numerous topics. According to Wikipedia, the page is semi-protected. Which meant that I needed to accomplish a particular number of edits before I could add, subtract, or fix anything within the article on Wikipedia. Luckily after a few minor edits to my Sandbox, I gained access to the Krampus article and was on my way to discovery.
My initial research led me to a few resources through VCU’s Cabell Library database. I stumbled upon an article from the National Geographic called “How Krampus, The Christmas ‘Devil’ Became Cool” by Becky Little. It introduces the character of Krampus and its origins in Austrian folklore. It is told that on the 5th of December, also known as Krampusnacht, that Krampus comes to punish the children through torture or dragging them to his lair, or worse; Hell. On December 6th, also known as the Feast Day of St Nicholas, is when Saint Nicholas comes to reward children with gifts and praise for their good studies and behavior that year.
When a graphic designer by the name of Monte Beauchamp discovered some greetings card called Krampuskarten, it inspired him to collect the Krampus cards and gather them into a book to be published. That is one way in which Krampus received attention in the American mainstream. The late Anthony Bourdain’s A Krampus Carol has also garnered some notice in recent years. However, I felt I wasn’t finding what I needed and was just spiraling down a rabbit hole. So, I decided it was time to contact someone at Cabell.
I spoke with Erin Carrillo, a librarian, who gave me a little bit of a direction to start from. We met for about an hour and both did some digging in through VCU’s online resources. But, since there is only so much known about the origins of Krampus, she advised that I look through some Austrian and German folklore to potentially find some clues. Unfortunately, it led me down many different rabbit holes with nothing that connected to Krampus.
So, I decided to use my alumni status look into John Tyler Community College’s database for any potential help. There was an article called “Meet Krampus, the Seriously Bad Santa” and a video titled “Who is Krampus?” through National Geographic. The article discussed how Krampus may have been described as just a “Horned God” and not by any specific name through original pagan traditions. But, due to the Catholic Church stretching its power throughout the Alpine regions in which these practices took place, they associated this “Horned God” with Satan and immediately condemned the character. In the video I found, it showed how the tradition of Krampus runs are still popular in the Alpine regions and the craftsmanship behind the making of the costumes. It was extremely interesting to see the process and dedication of these woodworkers, but once again led me down a rabbit hole and I was not able to connect much of what I found.
However, I found one book in particular that seemed to be extremely helpful. It is a recently published book titled The Krampus and the Old Dark Christmas: Roots and Rebirth of the Folkloric Devil by Al Ridenour and was filled with bits and pieces of information. In this book, I read about a figure known as the Percht. It is a two-legged goat with a giraffe-like neck and draped in animal furs. Participants were known as Perchten, they dressed up as the Percht and would parade about in the town of Gastein, outside of Salzburg, Austria. These processions were considered predecessors to the eventual Krampuslaufs. They are also the oldest known celebrations of pagan traditions in the Alps. There is only one problem. It’s not easy to determine what these Perchtenlaufs were about aside from the Percht itself. On the other hand, I found something else within the book that gives some insight into how the Krampus may have come to be.
As I continued reading The Krampus and the Old Dark Christmas, I found on pages 96-99 that Krampus could have some relation to Christianity. For example, December 24 was considered a holy day dedicated to Adam and Eve. One way to celebrate the occasion was to hold “Paradise plays.” These plays were popular throughout Germany and Austria, and they depicted Adam and Eve being tempted by a devilish creature in the Garden of Eden. Centuries later, these plays would transform into what was called a Nikolausspiel (“Nicholas play”). They took elements of the Paradise plays, but incorporated Saint Nicholas and pitted good versus evil in a competition for human souls. These additions were partially due to the Catholic Church attempting to counteract the Protestant movement in Europe. But what really makes things interesting is that they featured dialogue between heavenly beings and devilish creatures, including portrayals of Death and Youth as figures.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, while the Perchtenlaufs were still prevalent throughout the Alpine regions. But Nicholas parades were becoming just as popular amongst the Alpine peoples. Over time the Nikolausspiel would turn into the modern-day Krampusspiel. The Krampuslauf celebrations still take place in the mountain-sides of the Alpine countries. Except now, the two go hand-in-hand when it comes to Christmas celebrations. Saint Nicholas is seen as the one baring gifts and praise to those who have been good all year. While Krampus has been positioned as his “helper” with whom distributes the torture and punishment to those that are not so good.
After working on this project, I still don’t believe I have cracked the case on Krampus. However, I have learned more now than I did when I started, and I certainly appreciate the journey it has taken me on. As someone who has celebrated Christmas my entire life, I am still relatively new to the Krampus tradition. But I feel that as an individual with ancestral ties to the region, it is my duty to discover more about Krampus and introduce those traditions to my own children one day. And now with many cities throughout the United States introducing their own Krampusnachts, it makes the integration that much easier.