As you no doubt have guessed, we here at VE love the darker side of things. We are all drawn to the quirky and downright weird in fact. We've been fascinated by the (mostly) northern European tradition of the 'Krampus' for some years now, and it seems to have been getting more popular now with some Krampus 'runs' even being held in the UK.
If you're not sure what the Krampus is, well, it's basically a horned, half goat, half demon like creature that comes and punishes naughty children around December time. Terrifying looking and often with a long pointed tongue, the tradition mainly occurs in Austria, Bavaria, the Czech Republic, some northern parts of Italy, Croatia, Slovenia and Hungary. The name is derived from the German word krampen, meaning claw and is said to be the son of Hel in Norse Mythology and also shares characteristics with other scary, demonic creatures in Greek mythology, including satyrs and fauns. Krampus usually has one human foot and one cloven hoof.
Many of these parts of Europe hold Krampus runs around 6th December when several Krampus (Krampi??) form a procession through the streets with flaming torches and clanking chains (said to symbolise the binding of the Devil) or rustling birch branches (Ruten) with which they sometimes might gently thrash passing children, or in some traditions the Krampus may have actual whips. They also often carry a large bag or sack on their backs to stuff naughty children in. Folklore tells that misbehaved children were said to be dragged away to be drowned, eaten or sent to Hell. They were also said to drive evil spirits away in some areas.
Of course, where there is darkness, there must be light, and often accompanying the Krampus will be good old Saint Nicolas. Saint Nicolas is only interested in the good children, and will bring gifts and treats whereas Krampus will give them coal or birch twigs. In some areas, golden painted birch branches are hung in the house as part of the traditional seasonal decorations to remind children that the Krampus is never far away if they start being naughty! There was also an association with the Krampus and fertility, so there are also many images of buxom ladies being chased by Krampus too!
From the 1800s people began to send Krampus cards - with the legend 'Gruß vom Krampus' (Greetings from Krampus), and we love the designs of these cards, which are now very collectable! Other collectable items include chocolate moulds and figurines, more easily found in Europe than the UK. Chocolate figures are still produced with the foil wrapped Krampus looking slightly jolly with his long tongue hanging out!
So, if you fancy doing something a little different to the usual German/Austrian Christmas markets next year - why not book yourself in for a Krampus run? Saltzberg is a good place as is Munich, Klagenfurt and Prague. Or, if you fancy staying closer to home, Whitby now has one - you can follow their Facebook page for more details of the 2018 run. Enjoy the seasonal fun of being lashed with birch branches and growled at whilst drinking mulled wine and maybe even eating a cheeky Bratwurst. See you there...