A Brief History of Krampus in America

Updated on December 22, 2017
Paxash profile image

Darcie is a graduate student who spends her free time writing and learning everything she can about cryptozoology, aliens, and the unusual.

At this point, most people know Krampus. The mythical Christmas demon has become part of the mainstream in the United States, even spawning a major motion picture release in 2015. So how did Krampus escape his regional European origins to become an American phenomenon?

Source

A Bit of Background

In case someone reading this article actually is unaware of Krampus, here's some basic background information. Krampus is a monster that's typically portrayed as a hairy demon with black or brown fur, cloven hooves, goat horns, a long, pointed tongue, and fangs. Quite often, he will have one human foot and one cloven hoof, as opposed to two hooves. Krampus punishes naughty children during the Christmas season, often traveling alongside dear old Saint Nick.

The Krampus myth dates back to pre-Germanic paganism, and he was originally the son of Hel, the Norse goddess of the Underworld. Traditionally, he comes on December 5, along with Saint Nicholas. While Saint Nicholas puts candy in the shoes of good children and birch twigs in the shoes of the bad, Krampus will instead beat children with his birch branches. Sometimes he will even make these children disappear, stuffing them into a sack and taking them back to his lair to be tortured or eaten.

The following video from Buzzfeed Unsolved has some additional information on Krampus, in addition to just generally being fun.

Introduction to America

So Krampus is generally a horrifying guy and has likely scared many a child from his native regions into behaving. But why have so many people internationally, and particularly in America in recent years, embraced him as their Christmas spirit?

One man named Monte Beauchamp takes a lot of credit for this. Beauchamp says that after a collector showed him some Krampus postcards from the 19th and 20th centuries, he became interested in Krampus. He later published some of these in two different issues of his magazine Blab!, and then later two books in 2004 and 2010.

After the publication of his first book, a gallery director in Santa Monica, California approached Beauchamp and asked him to help coordinate an exhibit featuring artistic interpretations of the Krampus postcards. This initial show was so successful that Beauchamp says they became regular occurrences, with Beauchamp curating. Beauchamp says that ever since, he has also frequently been contacted by people wanting to license the Krampus images from his books.

The cover of Beauchamp's first book.
The cover of Beauchamp's first book.

A Lack of Christmas Cheer

But this still begs the question of why Krampus resonates so much with so many Americans, and why they have latched on to it now. Christopher Bickel of Dangerous Minds has an idea. He says,

"It's been theorized that the Krampus lore was brought over to the US by German-speaking immigrants, but never took hold on American shores due to anti-German sentiment over the first and second World Wars...but that Santa Claus did catch on because he made a great mascot for the Coca-Cola company. A devil who beats children isn't really going to be an effective soda pop pitchman. A jolly fat guy who hands out gifts? Perfect."

And yet, even though this explains why Krampus didn't take hold in the US earlier, it still isn't the whole story. Al Ridenour, author of The Krampus and the Old, Dark Christmas: Roots and Rebirth of the Folkloric Devil, says, "The pattern is different in Europe, but in America, it would be the punk aesthetic and the sort of impudent internet culture of memes." He goes on:

"When images of the Krampus began circulating on the internet in the mid 2000s, that really set fire to it all. Those of us who came up in the punk milieu recognized the Krampus as the new savior of Christmas. We'd grown up chafing against this ideal of Christmas, a sentimental domestic idyll of family values and childhood wonder, and here we had this shocking figure who celebrated the holiday by beating children! He seemed to perfectly embody the rebellion we felt."

Bickel expressed a similar sentiment, saying, "Something about this Christmas demon is starting to resonate with Americans. Perhaps it's the fact that he represents the antidote to the unrestrained American sense of entitlement?"

From a Krampus run in Los Angeles.
From a Krampus run in Los Angeles. | Source

The General Consensus

Most analyses seem to agree on the reason so many Americans love Krampus. Here's a small sampling of some conclusions writers have come to when trying to figure out the Krampus phenomenon.

  • Sonia Halback, on a blog entry on The Huffington Post: "It's difficult to say exactly why the intrigue surrounding Krampus has skyrocketed. Perhaps for a generation that grew up with Harry Potter and a pop culture that's always on the lookout for the next classic fantasy creature to reinvent (e.g. vampires, elves, zombies) the time is finally right for this darker Christmas beast to emerge."
  • Peter Jelavich, a professor of history at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore: "Modern Krampus celebrations represent Halloween for adults...these days, Krampus is the fun character."
  • Kerry Sullivan, Ancient-Origins.net: "Krampus' rise in America has mirrored a rise in the number of people who bemoan that the tradition has become too commercialized."

So there we have it. The primary reason Americans seemed to have latched on to the Krampus tradition is a dissatisfaction with the commercialization of the Christmas season, as well as being sick of the holly jolly cheer that has been pushed on them since childhood. It's a perfect combination of sentiment for Krampus to take over.

Marchers in Houma, Louisiana in 2015.
Marchers in Houma, Louisiana in 2015. | Source

Krampus Celebrations

So how did Krampus and Krampus-related events spread through America? Some have attributed the ease of organizing large events, such as Krampus runs, through social media as the vehicle for spreading the word. And the word has certainly been effectively spread.

In 2010, Americanized versions of Krampusnacht, or Krampus Night, were organized in Columbia, South Carolina and Portland, Oregon. By 2014, over 30 different Krampus celebrations were being held across the US. Some of these took place on December 5, the traditional date of Krampusnacht, while others took place on a date close to it.

Of course, not everyone is pleased with Krampus' invasion of Christmas. I feel one instance worth mentioning is one that occurred nearby to me in 2015, which was no doubt influenced by the movie that came out that year. In an article dated December 5, 2015, it was reported that at a parade that had occurred the night before in Houma, Louisiana, some marchers dressed as Krampus had unexpectedly - only to the parade-goers, as the marchers were registered as part of the parade - made an appearance. This upset a lot of people who expected traditional Christmas fare. I think the people quoted in this article overreacted, but I'll let everyone make their own individual judgments.

And despite the negative reactions to this particular parade, there is now a Krewe of Krampus in New Orleans that parades in December, and appears at other events throughout the year. They hand out lumps of coal and other Krampus-related throws. The coal is dark for the naughty children and gold for the nice.

It just goes to show that Krampus has been fully embraced by a population of Americans. For now at least, it appears that naughty children have a bit more to fear than some coal in their stockings.


Krewe of Krampus
Krewe of Krampus | Source

Questions & Answers

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 

        10 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

        This is interesting. I've been exploring the Krampus character recently, so I'm glad I found your article. Thanks for increasing my knowledge!

      • profile image

        Ap 

        10 months ago

        Enjoyed

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)