What is Krampus and what is Krampus Nacht?
Krampus dates back to pre-Christian European mountain culture. He is a dark Yule figure who — as Christianity spread into the Alps — was tied to St. Nicholas and St. Nicholas’ Eve (December 5). Or perhaps St. Nicholas became tied to Krampus. It’s a little difficult to sort out.
Across the Alps, this strange being is known by many names, including Knecht Ruprecht, Certa, Perchten, Black Peter, Schmutzli, Pelznickel, and Klaubauf. Creatures of the forested mountains all, they represent the growing dark of the season and are often not all-bad or all-good.
In legend, they sometimes help the Christ Child. Sometimes the dark figures frighten the not-so-good children but then are dragged away by a benevolent Santa (and accompanying angel in white-starched robe). Sometimes the dark creatures simply represent the comic relief as they follow along behind St. Nicholas.
In their most rambunctious forms, the Krampus are a terrifying sight — appearing to to modern, Westernized Christian eyes as a goat-headed demon rattling chains and sticking out his tongue — and are easy to misconstrue.
Obviously, this goat-headed demon has no place in a modern Christmas filled with cheery lights, plastic Nativities, soothing music and a plush goodwill toward mankind? Right?
Here’s where all the “nice” people nod their heads.
No less than the writer of Ecclesiastes speaks of the need to accept the complex problems of duality. “For everything there is a season… A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance.”
Ancient — some would say primitive — peoples accepted the duality of our short time on earth and its inherent problems:
Just as the earth itself goes through a time of darkness and cold, so too we as humans pass through seasons of darkness. Depression. Tears. Fear. Death. These things are real.
But a modern American society says depression is uncomfortable. Best to ignore it. Put on a happy face. Pretend. And when that fails? Medicate. Heavily.
What are we doing to ourselves?