So, boys and girls, were we all well-behaved throughout 2010? And did we all survive Krampusnacht without severe psychological or physical trauma? Krampusnacht? I hear you cry. What on earth is that? Well I did some roving reporting to answer that question, and here's what I discovered.
Before the bearded fat bloke in a red suit, more commonly known as Santa Claus, started coming down our chimneys every December, folk were visited by St Nicholas. Every year, on 6th December, St Nicholas would visit bringing a sack load of toys and gifts for the townsfolk. A routine that wasn't all that different from Santa Claus.
These days, Christmas Eve involves bribing Santa with mince pies and brandy, maybe a carrot or two for the reindeer - an evening that forms happy Christmas memories for many children. And in theory, when Santa visits, the boys and girls who have misbehaved during the year may receive only a lump of coal, (or a potato if they're lucky), as a sign of Santa's disapproval. No huge trauma, (though, of course, not getting the Xbox or Sylvanian family that you've desperately coveted, is indeed a distressing disappointment.) But, and especially if you're still weeping into last year's wrapping paper that contained your annual Christmas jumper, spare a thought for those whose seasonal rituals involve a visit from the Krampus.
The Krampus was St Nicholas's sidekick who traditionally visited on 5th December, otherwise known as Krampusnacht, (Krampus night). The Krampus, sometimes known as the Pelzebock or Schmutzli, was a devilish creature with goat horns and cloven hoofs, rattling chains and bells wherever he went. It seems that his only purpose in life was to terrify the local children into being well-behaved, and punish those who have ignored the previous year's warning. If the children hadn't been 'good', like his later counterpart Santa, St Nick would only give a gift of coal or vegetables, and we don't want that... especially when there are limited edition coloured Wii consoles on sale.
So, as the night of Krampus began, the Krampus would chase children through the streets, sometimes beating them with chains and sticks. Those children that really had been utterly awful during the year were bundled into the basket on the back of the Krampus, and supposedly carried away back to the fiery underworld. I can only assume that ultimately their fate was unpleasant, to say the least.
After discovering all this information on traditions from another time and place I was, understandably, curious to meet the Krampus for myself. Not knowing exactly where Krampuses/Krampi, hang out when they're not terrifying women and children, I sent out a message to my underworld contacts. I know that this is all very cloak and dagger, and I can't reveal my sources, but a meeting was soon arranged.
Three days later, inside a gentleman's smoking club, I met my first Krampus over a glass or two of brandy. As I sat in my, very comfortable, winged leather seat, I concede that initially I was a little startled by the Krampus's rugged appearance. He may have been wearing a very smart pinstripe suit and tie, and his horns were clean and polished; but it was impossible to ignore that he was exceptionally hairy, and he dribbled every time he spoke. And, if I'm brutally honest, he also smelt somewhat like a farmyard bonfire, a smell that no cologne on earth could mask. But his manner was very pleasant and accommodating, and as a result I soon adjusted to the company of my unusual interviewee. Although he was originally from mainland Europe, Klaus the Krampus spoke exceptionally good English.
|Klaus, out finishing the last of his Christmas shopping|
"Christianity aside, the main problem is that, generally speaking, children just aren't scared of me anymore," said Klaus. Before continuing he took a long drag on the cigar that was wedged between his cloven hooves. "I can growl all I like, and to them I'm still just a hairy goat with bells on.
"I'd given my all to this job, so it was hard for me to accept that my unpopularity had waned. At first it was soul destroying. This loss of direction and purpose in life led me into a very dark place. I was in a state of despair and drinking too much. But the fact remained - these days children see far scarier things than me on Saturday night television. Chasing them with chains and bells is entirely futile when they just ridicule you with their laughter.
"But, after some considerable thought, I now accept that, when they spent a large proportion of their lives playing shoot 'em up games on their games consoles, the youth of today aren't going to be overly concerned by me brandishing a handful of birch twigs. They just think I'm a psychiatric patient who is keen on fancy dress...and there's no coming back from that.
"It's a consumer driven world, a world in which I'm redundant...I mean, these days it's even frowned upon to leave lumps of coal as gifts to demonstrate our disapproval of current behavioral standards. As the earth slowly overheats, we can't be seen to be encouraging the use of fossil fuels."
Having been in employment for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years, I was curious to know how Klaus now spent his Decembers. Despite having sampled the finest of brandies with him, a subject on which he was very knowledgeable, I was still surprised by how civilised his reply was.
"Oh, I'm lucky as I have many interests....Over the years I've had many offers to do pantomime, but that would mean I'd be busy right through into the new year. I have a deep passion for the opera and ballet, and now that I'm not working every December I'm, at last, able to attend seasonal performances. I'd hate to miss those annual treats for the sake of a pantomime with Barbara Windsor.
"And, as long as they've behaved throughout the year, like most other people, I like to spend December purchasing gifts for my nearest and dearest. However, I do try to avoid buying socks and jumpers." In a tone that suggested he was resigned to his current circumstances, Klaus continued, "I guess it's a case of 'if you can't beat them, (which I can't as beating children is now frowned upon) then I may as well join them in the shopping frenzy and max out my credit card in Topman."
As Klaus poured another brandy, I then asked the old goat what had become of his friend, St Nicholas?
"He's still quite bitter about the arrival of Santa Claus, whom he calls 'The Imposter'. He put him out of work so it's understandable. He now lives in a retirement home for legendary historical figures. I can't tell you too much about it, for obvious reasons, but it's somewhere in Eastbourne. He shares a room with Merlin the magician. They have a great time together, causing mischief, so I think, despite his misgivings, he's been enjoying his enforced retirement. I try and visit him a few times a year, but I always make sure that I'm there over December 5th & 6th. We chase the staff around the building, just for a laugh. It's like the good old days."
These days, where the Krampus is still celebrated, (sometimes) drunken adults dress like satanic goats, carrying flaming torches as they cavort through the streets, scaring, and probably scarring, the local children, as they birch them with twigs...but I sure would have liked to have seen Klaus himself in his full regalia...As long as I'd been a good boy all year, that is.
And now I will leave you with footage of a recent Krampusnacht parade...
And on that dark note, I'm off for a bath,
Regards to you all,