The Prowler

Santa’s friend that America forgot

Nathaniel Martinez, Online Editor

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Lots of today’s most popular stories have very grim origins. Instead of living happily every after, many characters from fairy tales and folklore died in their original incarnations. Little Red Riding Hood was eaten and Ariel turned to foam. Such stories were often used to teach lessons to children, usually by frightening them. Over time, the tales were morphed into the more family-friendly versions that are popular in America today but along the way, entire characters were sometimes left behind.

“Krampus” was released in 2015 to middling reception. The film’s titular character, described as “the shadow of Saint Nicholas,” torments a family for having too little “Christmas spirit” and is powerful enough to send an entire town to Hell. This incarnation is one of few to appear in American media, but the character, Krampus, may have existed as far back as pre-Christian times.

The United States’ version of Saint Nicholas is known for rewarding well-behaved children with presents and punishing troublesome children by giving them coal. European incarnations of the character tend to emphasize the former while leaving the punishment to Krampus, one of Saint Nicholas’s often forgotten companions.

Krampus is typically depicted as half-demon and half-goat with dark fur, large horns, and hooves in place of feet. Some variations have him wearing chains which are thought to symbolize the binding of the Devil in Christianity.

The creature is said to punish misbehaving children by putting them in a sack or basket on its back and either taking them forever or throwing them into a body of water to drown. It also carries a bundle of branches a whip with which it strikes children.  

Meant to scare children into behaving properly, the character of Krampus failed to transition into American culture, which has started to encourage positive reinforcement instead of physical discipline in recent decades..

Parts of Europe celebrate Krampusnach or Krampus Night on December 5, preceding the Feast of Saint Nicholas the following day. Some Alpine towns hold annual Krampuslaufs or Krampus Runs where young men dress up as Krampus and run through the town to chase off winter spirits, similar to a parade. It is normal for runners to be given alcohol during the celebrations.

Krampus Runs are starting to occur in the United States but are still quite rare.

The creature is presented in a significantly more graphic manner today compared to previous centuries. What was once a slender goat-man with horns is now depicted as a hulking beast with threatening fangs, bloodshot eyes, and a constant face of hatred. Like more popular characters, Krampus has developed over time but in this instance, into a more unsettling design.

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Santa’s friend that America forgot