The irony of this post is not lost on me – I’m about to comment about the lack of genuine experience in the real world, whilst sitting in front of a computer screen in a warm house during the winter, scouring YouTube for signs of Krampus events.
For those who are unaware, Krampus is St. Nicholas’ darker aspect (read more about him here), and he walks the streets in pursuit of little brats, to put the fear of the Almighty in them on or around the night of November 30. In central European regions (especially in the mountains), he’s a regular part of this time of year, and he later joins St. Nicholas on December 5th when he makes his rounds to reward (or reprimand) children for their past year’s behavior.
Some areas have a separate ritual Krampuslauf where a group of folks in fearsome costumes roam the streets with switches, punishing those who have been naughty. It’s a slightly different experience than sitting in your living room safe and sound, watching The Walking Dead, clicker in hand. Getting out to encounter a Krampus in real life is likely going to be cold, the weather might be bad, and you could actually be injured in the process.
Krampus puts his money where his mouth is, and he gives that old “naughty or nice” promise some teeth. It’s a far cry from a passive-aggressive bit of coal in your stocking.
And in some parts of the world, he’s real — at least, the imagery is, the tradition is, and the experience of having Krampus walk up to you and give you a swat, is just how things are.
Now granted, people do know there’s a real human being underneath the outfit. And they know that the ritual is an annual thing that doesn’t happen everyday. So, there’s a certain pageantry to it that, which makes it safe to experience pangs of fear within those ritual guidelines.
The thing I like about the running of the Krampus, is that it happens outside a room with a television in it. There are real people in the costumes, walking around outside in the real world. There’s even a bit of danger involved, and you can actually get injured, should you be caught the wrong way by a switch or a tree branch. Once upon a time, it was a given that life was dangerous, that people got hurt, and that lawyers didn’t have to get involved to mediate what life just dished out. I’m not sure what the folks in South Tirol who got smacked in the face did in modern times, but one likes to think no lawyers were brought in. Maybe a doctor…
Watching the videos of Krampus, which I have been doing on and off for the past 24 hours, I am really enjoying the idea of this winter ritual you experience in person, out in the world where you live, and which could actually instill a bit of fear in you. It’s like the American Halloween experience, I suppose, only with a narrower range of costumes. And the point is not only entertainment. It’s cautionary as well.
I think of it as “The Walking Live” — it can give you an experience of fear and intense need to flee, based not on some deep-seated communal anxiety about zombified life and the insatiable drive to consume. Rather it’s all about the very real possibility that in the past year you’ve been a bit of a sh*t — and there are consequences for that. Imagine retribution being meted out for an actual reason… because you’ve earned it. And just think what it would be like for a community to see some bratty little kid (or your pain-in-the-ass neighbors who let their dogs out to bark like maniacs for 20 minutes at 11:30 p.m. and again at 5:30 a.m.) to be physically threatened by a horned and hideous beast in a goat skin…
Now that would be fun!
In any case, Happy St. Nicholas Day. In some parts of the world, actual physical Krampuses will be turning out with St. Nick, just to keep folks honest… to keep it real.