As an American, the things you own and consume are your identity. Your place in society is defined by your ability to acquire, and the discernment you apply in choosing, your stuff. Even hipsters and self-exiled outliers who pride themselves in cocking a snook at American consumerism play a full role: their rejection of the consumerist formula always involves a loud avoidance of the first part of the equation, and a whole spirited devotion to the second. And because the premise of America requires the destruction of the old, and the constant, grinding acquisition of the new, the refinement of consumer taste must be eclectic and seasonal. Even American intellectuals are constantly on the hunt for novelty, and the vast space between ‘intellectual’ and ‘hipster’, the seething, chaotic, meaningless reality of the ‘cultural critic’, is heavily populated. Are you old enough to recall a time when sophistication in America meant a passing familiarity with Kabbalah, an ironic, encyclopedic knowledge of 70s sitcoms, and the ability to pronounce ‘Côtes du Rhône’? Where is your truth now, hipster?
Google tells me that American interest in Krampus began in December 2010 with a groundbreaking survey of the Krampus phenomenon by professional blogger ‘TeenAngster’ (Real name: Alison; Location: Brooklyn, NY; Turn-ons: folk art, vintage oddities and other stuff discovered in her first year as a ‘Lit Major’ at University of Iowa, then pared and refined obsessively during three years in Williamsburg). Her survey sets the formula for American discoveries of Krampus over the last two years: Krampus is a vaguely goth, anti-Santa Claus; Krampus adds some edgy thrills (and lazy blog copy) to the hackneyed, consumerist Christmas myth. Krampus is cool, and he comes with many sets of vintage postcards that are easily scanned or hotlinked.
But there is a problem. Krampus is also fucking terrifying. And he hates hipsters. I have friends who grew up with the myth of Krampus, and, at best, they would find Brooklynites’ glib, seasonal fascination annoying. One such friend spent his life in a Hapsburg satellite state. On the evening of the Nikolo (December 6, the St. Nicholas festival), his grandfather would prowl around the house after bed time, scratching windows with thorny twigs and rattling heavy chains. My friend would cower under his bed for hours, having wet himself, sobbing for the intercession of St. Nicholas before Krampus made it into the house; because if Krampus did find him, he would be roughly tossed into an excruciating basket made of thorns and TAKEN STRAIGHT TO HELL. (Some myths claim children are taken to Krampus’s lair, but, whatever. It’s all the same to a six-year-old Slav).
‘OK,’ you might write in your next Gawker article. ‘Old world parenting techniques aren’t the best. But Krampus is still über-cool. Check out these hotlinked photos from a Krampuslauf, which means ‘Krampus run’ in German, and occurs during the month of December in Austria, Hungary, Northern Italy and…’
Let me stop you right there, Alison. Have you ever been to a Krampuslauf? Have you ever been to Carinthia, the glorious Texas of Austria? Those JPEGs you cut-and-pasted are from the Disney ‘Main Street Parade’ of Krampusläufe. Your goth alternative to mall Santa has a mundane reality: on the morning of December 5th, Austrian ‘bros’ get wasted on beer and schnapps, they don shitty monster masks and fur suits, and then use the occasion and the anonymity to wander the streets of Eberstein or Treffen harassing girls and beating the crap out of fags and pussies with sticks. Things usually get a little out of hand, but, like the high spirited fraternity ‘rager’, it’s allowed to pass and is quickly forgotten.
If you want to understand better what Krampus is all about, spend a few winter months in Carinthia or south Tirol. Learn German. Attend a local Nikolo evening. And head out to a small town Krampuslauf to survey the action. But leave the skinny jeans in Brooklyn, and be forewarned: Krampus is an old world allegory that doesn’t make for easy or frivolous consumption. Krampus can smell irony from 200 metres. He’s drunk on schnapps, swinging a spiny pine sapling at your head, and, above all, Krampus hates hipsters.