It fascinates me, the way Myth evolves over time. Consider Krampus, for example. The new movie in theaters (which is the best Xmas Comedy/Horror flick since GREMLINS) has introduced him to a lot of people who may never have heard of him before. If you’re one of those, and you haven’t seen the movie yet (Maybe waiting till a little closer to Christmas?), Krampus is the Christmas Devil. He tags along with Santa and, while St. Nick is leaving presents for good children, Krampus punishes the naughty ones. Growing up, I was always old that if I misbehaved Santa would leave coal in my stocking or bring a bundle of switches. This duty was formerly performed by Krampus, and still is in Germanic countries. In Scandinavian countries, meanwhile, Krampus appears as the (very) politically incorrect “Black Pete” and may carry naughty children away with him to the underworld. (A holdover from the days when Moorish pirates would kidnap children to sell as slaves.)
Krampus is the incorporation into the “Santa” Myth of preexisting pagan entities, paired up with the Jolly Old Elf as a helper, or sometimes even as Santa’s brother. He traditionally is depicted wearing chains, symbolizing the triumph of the “new” faith of Christianity over the “old” religions. (Like the Greek Pan or Celtic Cernunnos, subjugated and demonized by Christianity, Krampus has horns and hooves.) Recognition of Krampus seems to be catching on more in America, and I for one am thrilled. But pity those poor kids who already think Santa Claus is scary. They ain’t seen NOTHIN’ yet.