A Fireside Chat with Krampus, the Alpine Christmas Demon
Late one night this December, I’m in a bar high up in the snowy Austrian mountains. All the regulars are comatose, faithful rifles by their sides. The fir trees are dreamily caressing the windows and I’m beginning to feel the floor lurch up towards me. Then, this rotten-toothed dude in an old Slayer hoodie taps me on the shoulder and asks, “Would you like to meet a Krampus?”
“What?” I drool, “a real Krampus?”
He nods. I wobble but not from booze this time. Obviously I know all about this folkloric beast, a Gruffalo on a bad trip — scary face, goatish horns, shaggy fur — who, legend tells, drags naughty Kinder off to Hell at night on December 6th, every year. And I know rural Austrian youths liked to get soused, sneak into their Krampus costumes on that fabled evening, and run amok, causing trouble and traumatizing every child in a two mile radius. “Rural,” as in where we were now. But it’s just a story, isn’t it?
“No,” the man tells me, “it was not…”
The next night, my heavy metal sherpa points out my route through the dark trees and sets me on my way, armed only with my heaviest shearling coat and some chocolate coins (supposedly a Krampus’ favorite food). After wandering for hours like Dante on Clonazepam, I come at last to the Krampus’ lair, a weirdly cozy place nestled deep in the woods. I bark as instructed; the door groans open and there he is! Soon I’m locked into a magical bear hug, which probably pulps my vital organs. Inside it is as snug as a hobbit’s mittens, with a cuddlesome Bernese Mountain Dog named Beelzebub sleeping by the fire, a Christmas tree glittering in the corner like a witch escaped from Las Vegas, and that album of medieval Black Sabbath covers blasting from the speakers. Throwing the dregs of the previous evening’s goulash out the window (“For the wolves!”), Herr Krampus fetches two steins the size of horse skulls, a magnum of egg nog, and crashes onto the couch, resplendent in size 25 Nike Dunks obtained for him by an NBA player he’d prefer not to name. “I’m bigger than Shaq,” he says, proudly. We settle down to chat.
Krampus: Would you like some nog, too? Here, give me your tankard!
Charlie Fox: What’s in it, Herr Krampus?
Different kinds of booze, owl milk – some say you can’t milk owls, but they lie – raspberries… Sometimes I sneak the odd hallucinogenic mushroom in there and really fry for the whole night, staring at the ghosts in the fireplace… Fun, no?
Totally. Have you always loved Christmas?
As a Krampus cub, I would be so excited on Christmas Eve that I would throw up. Our whole world and all our dreams are totally married to Christmas, ever since the original Krampus wandered down the mountains that cold December night, hungry as hell, and struck his pact with the original Saint Nikolaus that we could come into your towns once a year and unleash all the wildness and mischief. It was in exchange for some honey-glazed deer carcasses. That’s how the Krampuslauf was born.
But what happened to all the original Krampusses?
Ah, here the tale turns sad. In the 1700s there came the Krampus hunts. Fancy gentlemen with muskets and explosives decided they didn’t want to play normally: they wanted war. They killed us and took our pelts for rugs or hung our skulls outside pubs, as lanterns. Natürlich, we retaliated, this is not Sesame Street, we weren’t just caught goofing with our flaccid lads hanging out. We ate a lot of men; we made their bones into soup. Nice dish. Soon the snow was all gooey and red with Krampus blood — and the ones who lived, we crept back into the mountains. Afterwards, the humans imitated us, dressing up in our fur and making our faces into masks. Hideous! Someone from the town will still bring me a van-load of KFC on the eve of the Krampuslauf, that is tradition… I enjoy the milkshakes.
And nobody ever comes up to see you?
I guess a lot are fearful. Or maybe angry. Everybody needs to be angry about this or that. Perhaps because we took their children off to Hell or threw them in freezing lakes, but they always came back. Maybe they shivered, maybe they screamed in the dead of night, but they came back! We love children and we just like to play. Herzog comes to visit me.
Wow, Werner Herzog! What do you talk about?
Dogs, riddles, puddings: a lot of talk. And he used to like to ride upon my back when we galumphed through the darkness, singing. And we used to steal cars. He once said, “I have wanted all my life to find you. You are the wisest beast.” But I don’t really read; he reads a lot. I guess I am wise from just being here a long time.
Do you get a lot of exercise up here?
I hate exercise! Herzog, too, is always walking here and there. I would rather go bowling with goblins. I like to wallow. All the time I hear people talking about walking as if it’s suddenly some kind of art now. What is this nonsense? This is boring. I like to wallow in my special mud Jacuzzi. I stole it from the house of a Lindt heiress but I really needed it. And it’s full of my favorite muds and I just bask in there all night.
What about your romantic life, Herr Krampus?
Ah, some people are surprised there even are girl Krampusses, as if we dudes sprung from Satan’s workshop fully formed, like Jimmy Page! But I’ve been in love many times. Covered in romance bruises from their bites. High from the scent of their fur.
Kissing on a frozen lake, or chasing each other through the trees, or deep in the dark grottoes we have cuddled all night. I still stand outside and sing for them… (Eerie black metal shriek) But I’m the last Krampus for a while now.
Would you ever eat people?
I have eaten people, my boy. Not too many because you’re not the greatest meat, like Siberian tiger or something, but gentlemen with crossbows who have tried to slay me on hunting trips or those who come without gifts—
Enjoy the chocolate coins!
[With a mouthful of chocolate gold] Thanks! Anyway, I would not be scared if I was in your boots!
So how do you pass the time up here?
Summer, I do my hibernation. I blow out the fire, sluice myself in beast-grease and slither down into someone’s cellar to steal Guinness. “Gute Nacht!” I rouse myself in September and by then… I’ve had job offers.
What kind of job offers?
Freak shows, once upon a time. Also in the 1990s I was approached by some gentlemen working for this Worldwide Wrestling Federation: they wanted to have a bout between me and somebody called Kane in a ring of fire. It was going to be broadcast at midnight right in the teeth of winter. I had warm memories of wrestling as a little Krampus, knocking down trees and so on. I was so excited to play again! But some mothers had the angst over this. They said I was in cahoots with the Devil when we hardly see each other anymore — we used to go to the boxing with a few rappers; the Devil loves bloodsports — and so that didn’t happen. Schwarzenegger invited me to New York one year. I was feeling a little lonely — so I went and found out he wanted to fight.
Ya, the same! It was in some bar. He was trashed on schnapps and dressed as Saint Nikolaus. He obviously held traumatic beef against me from his Austrian boyhood when the Krampus stalked his dreams. He demanded we battle astride this vast Bucking Bronco, a mechanical bull, in this bar. He commandeered the sound system to blast out “Silent Night! Holy Night!” at high volume. There were women dressed as elves gamboling around, and he was yelling “Nobody will doubt me now!” I didn’t want to harm Arnold, but I got overexcited and poleaxed him in about a minute to wild applause. Later, I was in the parking lot, having some triumphant nog with Dennis Rodman, you know?
Yup, I know Dennis.
He was dressed as Santa Claus’ wife with an elf-girl on each arm. Anyways, Arnold came over and wept on me like a jelly, and we stayed up til dawn singing old carols. It was nice.
Any other weird jobs you’ve had?
Somebody did ask me to present a cooking show for the holiday season: In der Küche mit Krampus! This was years ago. But a Krampus’ diet is so enormous in relation to a human diet, you know, all the fang gateaux and deep-fried reindeer and blood gravy, they said it would be medically ill advised to broadcast. Also, I worked at a Christmas grotto to, uh, “give something back to the community”?
Yes! But undercover because everybody’s feelings towards real Krampusses are still very dark and blood-soaked and nasty. Nobody at the grotto rumbled I was an echt Krampus: they all said, “Fantastic costume!” as I jingled in each morning. But all the children were howling like gargoyles as soon as they saw me; the parents screamed, “Trauma! Trauma!” And suddenly I’m wandering up the mountains alone again.
Do you ever wonder why humans have this kind of attraction-repulsion relationship to your kind?
Perhaps I am here to be some big bad anti-daddy. And you humans want that: you like to be naughty, you like to be scared. For some reason, this is a weird fantasy you are frightened to admit all the time, like an ugly goblin trapped inside you, even though the fear makes the fun even bigger and wilder… (Roars) I WILL EAT YOU UP! (Laughs) See, you were a terrified puppy, but now, inside, you are singing: that is where, as you say, I come in. And a Krampus isn’t malicious: it is just in our blood. We are performing what you call shenanigans, more in the family of Bugs Bunny than a wicked witch. Pranks. Anarchy. I scare your dad, he falls down, I run away cackling. But no awful harm is really done. The sun comes up again tomorrow; everything is OK. Good needs bad to survive, otherwise it is all just lonely acts in a black hole.
Are there times when you’ve got carried away?
With the shenanigans? Ya, but it is magnificent to get carried away! There’s the joy. Sometimes I have snuck down into the festivities on a Krampusnacht for fun, all boozed up, because nobody will catch me in the chaos of wild boys, and… I don’t regret flipping over Volkswagens or breaking into houses and smashing furniture with my horns, or throwing bowling balls aflame through kitchen windows. It is escape from the brain, which is what everybody craves… It is fun.
Do you still go down there?
Of course! I love to play. And if anybody caught me, what would they do? Christmas is melancholy for some people, I know, but not for me. I’ve stood on the roof of the mountains on Christmas Eve and heard the songs and the sleigh bells drift up through the night air, and seen the drunks passed out in the snow, and the stars all sparkling… ah, magic. It is the greatest for me.