cover image The Krampus and the Old, Dark Christmas: Roots and Rebirth of the Folkloric Devil

The Krampus and the Old, Dark Christmas: Roots and Rebirth of the Folkloric Devil

Al Ridenour. Feral House (Consortium, dist.), $25 trade paper (248p) ISBN 978-1-62731-034-5

Ridenour (Offbeat Food) serves up an immensely accessible, well-researched history mixed in with his own personal journey tracing the Krampus, a Christmas devil with roots in Austrian and German folklore. During “the old, dark Christmas” time, Northern Europeans created tales of supernatural mayhem to go along with stories of St. Nicholas visiting houses and praising good children: he delivered the bad ones into the basket of the Krampus, a furry horned demon wearing bells and chains, who beat them with a switch. In today’s Perchtenlauf (devil parades), characters dressed as St. Nicholas and the Krampus march through streets and hit spectators. The Perchtenlauf in Gastein, Austria, is the oldest celebration of its kind, dating to 1898. But Ridenour argues that the origins and influence of the Krampus go further back, with roots in church morality dramas called Nicholas plays; the Alpine pagan witch Frau Perchta, who rewards and punishes children; the march of the Nachtvolk (night folk); and the Perchten (devilish spirits). He shows how the Internet has revived and spread interest in Krampus, describing modern costuming, masks, and Krampus reenactments from Europe and North America. Ridenour concludes that today’s Perchtenlauf provide “the simple fun of dressing up and smacking people.” Those interested in folklore, anthropology, history, counter-culture, and cosplay will enjoy this thorough assessment and its plethora of illustrations. (Oct.)