Krampus / ParkeljSt. Nicholas' Demonic Companion
It’s almost December, which means Christmas isn’t too far away; of course, as many know, Christmas isn’t all carols and presents. There’s also Krampus, the darker side of Christmas, who’s been gaining back popularity in our culture. Old World folklore is needed to discipline children, to the fact that some kids might just be more intrigued by monsters than a jolly man in a red suit.
Pretty much all German “ Gruß vom Krampus” (Greetings from Krampus) vintage Christmas cards are the same – Krampus stealing your kids.
Who is Krampus?
In former lands of Austria – Hungary Empire, today known as Austria, Germany, Italy, Slovakia, Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia, predominantely in Alpine regions of these countries, the horned demon-like figure is an essential part of the beginning of the holiday season. It is not so easy to describe a Krampus. Or maybe it’s easier to describe one, than to actually imagine what he looks like. He is a terrifying creature, with long horns and a goaty beard, resembling the Satan himself.
Land of Austria-Hungary Empire in 1910.
Originally, Krampus was a purely pagan creation, said to be the son of Hel from Norse mythology. But he got grafted onto Christian tradition as a sidekick of St. Nicholas, a good man who bring presents to the good kids. They represent the bright and the dark side, to create a balance, Saint Nicholas with the presents for the good ones and the Krampus with sticks and pain for the bad ones.
A legend says that a Krampus spends a night visiting each house with children. He than leaves a bunch of sticks for the bad kids and even takes the most disobedient ones with him. Through history parents used the idea of a Krampus taking their children, to scare the children into being good and obedient. Some houses even had figurines of a Krampus displayed in the house all-year-round just as a reminder to the kids that a Krampus is watching and he just might come and get them. For the good kids, that haven’t been taken by a Krampus, the next morning means time for presents.
Krampus taking a child. Date and location unknown.
The figure of “parkelj”,
Slovenian name for a Krampus, is still very much present in our culture, yet not as much to scare disobedient children, (although children should be afraid of his visit), but as a figure families like to go and see at one of many marches. In Slovenia we have a big traditional event. The gathering of devils from the tri-border between Slovenia, Austria and Italy has become a start-of-the-winter tradition in Podkoren. Krampuses from Slovenia, Italy and Austria march trough the streets of Podkoren, a small apine village near the border between the three countries.
Map of tri-border of Slovenia, Austria and Italy.
Every year more than 450 traditional holiday-season figures from 25 groups would gather in the village at the night of the event called The Hike of the Parkelj (Krampus) of Three Lands/Fire spectacle. Groups from Slovenia’s Gorenjska, Austria’s Carinthia and Italy’s Friuli regions keep the tradition alive by creating masks, which take almost an entire year to prepare.
The Krampus from a legend would beat up bystanders with his whips and chains. The young men, dressed as a Krampus, do the same. They chase and run after their randomly chosen victims, they beat and whip the legs and thighs of people observing the parade and they scare the children.
And as a reminder to the children, we like to bake Krampus shaped pastry and give it to the children with their presents, just as a reminder that the Krampus is always watching.
Pastry shaped like Krampus.