Sunday, December 20, 2015

YOU GET THE ROD! : THE RISE OF KRAMPUS (A 25 Days of Shitmas Post) by Kristopher Triana of The Tavern of Terror

By Kristopher Triana

There’s no doubt about it. The holiday season of 2015 doesn’t belong to Santa Claus, the elves on shelves, the new Peanuts movie or even Bill Murray’s Christmas Special. No, there’s an old fable, a creature of old-world mythology, which has inexplicably returned from the vault of ancient lore to become the most popular face of Christmas this year.

I’m talking, of course, about Krampus, the Christmas demon.

Now, had you mentioned this holiday goat-man just five years ago, most people wouldn’t know what in blazes you were blathering about. But now, with appearances on TV shows and in movies and all forms of pop culture, the demon of Christmas who punishes naughty children (a virtual Anti-Claus), is more popular than ever in America, and like it or not, the beast isn’t going anywhere. Krampus is back, and all the little brats out there better get ready for their comeuppance.

Recently, Krampus has appeared in episodes of Grimm, The League, Venture Brothers, Supernatural, The Colbert Report and American Dad (more on that later), as well as having his own feature film (Michael Dougherty’s Krampus, which I found to be sadly disappointing) and appearances in such holiday fright fair as A Christmas Horror Story and the low-rent Krampus: The Christmas Devil. He has his own comic book out by Image Comics, and there are multiple ornaments, cards, t-shirts, toys and even beers based on him now. There’s even a Kickstarter campaign for a Krampus doll that resembles the classic My Pet Monster toy of the 80’s.

But who is this yuletide, anthropomorphic goat? What is he really all about?

To answer that question we must go back to Alpine folklore - possibly even pre-Christian - where Krampus has his roots. In Austro-Bravarian, German-speaking lore, the figure is a demon who comes in December (traditionally December 5th), to punish naughty children by either giving them a pile of sticks as a warning, or beating them with sticks until their asses are as pink and swollen as a Christmas ham. He was also known to put kids in a his bag and shake them, rattle them with his chains, and even send some of the extra wicked brats straight to hell itself for a taste of what awaits them if they don’t change their ways.

Classically, he is described as a half-man, half-goat figure (similar to baphomet), usually with one human foot and one cloven hoof, with long horns and a traditional, devilish face. He is often portrayed as brown and red, but is sometimes white, looking like an abominable snowman. But while he is seen as a monster and Santa is seen as the ultimate philanthropist, the two work together according to legend, sort of like the yin and yang of the season. They exchange notes and seek out the kids on their lists accordingly.

Krampuskarten is part of the celebration of the beast, in where traditional greeting cards featuring the monster (sometimes seducing women, hubba-hubba!) are given out. Also, the festival of Krampuslauf is an alcohol-fueled party and parade where people dress as the monster, whip and push spectators, and frighten young children to remind them to be good. In fact, some people would even keep graven images of Krampus and twigs painted gold around the house all year long as a warning to kids to cut the shit.

Sounds like a good idea for today’s kids, doesn’t it?

In the 1930’s, Austria was under a fascist rule, and Krampus was seen as anti-Christian and a symbol of Social Democrats. The Catholic Union called for a full on ban of Krampus, and it was enforced, putting an end to the festivals, threatening to arrest anyone who so much as dressed as the beats, and incredibly they even mandated that dressing as St. Nicolas must be approved by the state. Jeez, and we have the balls to talk about a war of Christmas now. But you can’t keep a good ghoul down, and Krampus is alive and well in Austria these days, so much so that he has spread out across the world.

In modern day North America, the popularity of Krampus has exploded, and such celebrations of the demon are on the rise. I think some of this can be attributed to a love of horror and monsters, as well as a cynicism towards the sickly-sweet façade of the Christmas holiday, which has been so cheapened by crass commercialism. But I really think that deep down, the reason we’ve all come to embrace Krampus is really quite simple.

Kids today are rotten and get whatever they want no matter if they’re good or bad. Every generation think the next one has it way too easy, and I admit I’ve become a grumpy old man in this fashion as well as others, so maybe it’s unfair to say that today’s kids are spoiled turds. But they are, damn it. They are a bunch of spoiled, little turds. Kids today don’t get punished for anything; no matter how crappy they behave. They get everything they want for Christmas, as well as birthdays and even on a regular basis. They’re totally coddled and are given full attention by their parents at all times, the whole world around them being molded to their wants and needs, and it has transformed them into obnoxious, selfish, narcissistic little bastards who believe they are the center of the universe.

It’s not their fault; it’s their parents’ fault.

And not only are they not punished, they’re not even allowed to lose anymore. Everyone gets a trophy so nobody’s feeling get hurt. These kids are being raised in a land without justice and they’re all in for a painful and rude awakening when they finally have to enter the real world and deal with people who won’t coddle and spoon-feed them. They’ll have to deal with failure and defeat, and they simply won’t know how to handle it because their parents have completely shielded them from anything that might make them cry.

But in the meantime, they have everything their own way. They have become the rules of their parents, taking their lives away and getting away with absolute murder because today’s parents, by and large, are overly touchy-feely and hover over their children to the point of stunting their ability to handle their own emotions.

So now we have a generation of kids who are totally entitled, totally vain and self-centered, and they just keep getting whatever they wants whenever they want it, especially when Christmas rolls around.

We need Krampus now more than ever, and that’s why I think he’s returned from his long slumber.
That’s why my favorite rendition of the character is in the 9th season American Dad episode “Minstrel Krampus”, in which Krampus is released upon the world to teach spoiled-rotten Steve a lesson.

What I love most about the episode (other than the fact that Krampus sings and is voiced by the incredible soul singer Charles Bradley), is that while Krampus is initially seen as a terrible monster, it is slowly revealed that he is actually a good guy, because by punishing children he shows them that there are consequences to their actions and thereby helps them build character and become better people. Santa, on the other hand, actually makes kids worse by spoiling them. That’s the true brilliance behind this episode, and why I think everyone should check it out (yes, it’s on Netflix).

I know I’ve ranted about today’s kids and their parents, but the fact that Krampus is becoming so popular gives me hope. Maybe everyone is slowly starting to realize the error of soft parenting, and a newfound love for Krampus expresses that. If we’re ready to listen to the underlined message of the myth, we can give kids something more than toys and video games this year. We can give them the gift of being a better person, even if we have to do it the hard way.

Kristopher Triana is the author of Growing Dark and he has two new novels coming out in 2016. His short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies, including D.O.A. II, Selfies from the End of the World, The Ghost is the Machine, and magazines such as Spinetingler Magazine and Halloween Forevermore. This is his fourth year as a guest columnist for Shitmas here at Shit Movie Fest. You can also read his Christmas story “Giving from the Bottom”, for free in Spinetingler Magazine online right here:

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