Folktales are usually exaggerated yarns told by parents or other community leaders to frighten children and lay people into submission. The stories can be simultaneously scary and whimsical, but they’re always intended to teach a moral lesson.
Such is the case with Krampus.
Krampus is a character from Alpine folklore. He’s half man/half goat and rides the night skies every December 5 with his partner, Sinterklaas—aka Saint Nicholas. Bad children are carried away in the night and taken to hell where they are punished by the beast. Good children awake the morning of December 6 to find coins or other goodies in their shoes that they left in front of the door of their homes.
Krampus is also a character in my novel, Zinfandel’s Grimoire.
I released the book November 3, 2020 but since it was during the pandemic, I held the launch party virtually on December 5—Krampusnacht. Two years later, the pandemic lockdowns have been lifted and I was able to hold an in-person book signing at Conquest Books in Ashland, Kentucky. They’re closed on Mondays, so I couldn’t do it on December 5, which is Krampusnacht proper. Instead, we held it the Saturday before, which was December 3. I invited some of my other author friends to join me.
My Krampus, though, is … a little bit different than what most storytellers have depicted.
As I always say: Fiction is the lie within the truth. So first you find the truth and then you craft the lie.
When I was developing my Krampus character, I turned to the book, “The Krampus and the Old, Dark Christmas: Roots and Rebirth of the Folkloric Devil” by Al Ridenour. This book was the most authoritative source I could find on the subject. I learned that Krampus is often portrayed as having clawed hands (hence, the name “Krampus” which comes from the German word “krampen” meaning “claw”). He also has a long tongue, two horns on his head, one goat hoof, and one abnormally long human foot.
So I thought to myself: What physical condition would make someone look cramped up and walk as if they had two different kinds of legs? And would this same condition affect their tongue in any way?
I immediately flashed back to my college years when I worked in the Disabled Student Services Center at American River College in Sacramento, California. I had a friend there named Roy who had cerebral palsy.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Orders and Stroke, “Cerebral palsy (CP) is caused by damage to or abnormalities inside the developing brain that disrupt the brain’s ability to control movement and maintain posture and balance … Children with CP exhibit a wide variety of symptoms, including lack of muscle coordination when performing voluntary movements (ataxia); stiff or tight muscles and exaggerated reflexes (spasticity); weakness in one or more arm or leg; walking on the toes, a crouched gait, or a “scissored” gait; variations in muscle tone, either too stiff or too floppy; excessive drooling or difficulties swallowing or speaking; shaking (tremor) or random involuntary movements; delays in reaching motor skill milestones; and difficulty with precise movements such as writing or buttoning a shirt.”
I then thought about what it would have been like for a child living back in the days of Saint Nicholas who has CP. Since they ride the night skies together, Krampus and Nicholas must have been contemporaries, and Bishop Nicholas of Myra lived during the third century C.E. in what is now the southern coast of Turkey.
Nicholas was known for his kindness and generosity. So in my story, I had him and Krampus (whose real name was Karl) die on the same night. Karl had so much anger and hatred pent up inside him after a lifetime of being tormented by the townsfolk because of his disability that when he died, his ghost swore to punish all the cruel kids around the world. Nicholas, being the perennial optimist, wanted to teach Karl that there were indeed kind children all over the world, so now every night on the twain of December 5 and 6, the two of them journey around the world dolling out punishments for bullies and bringing sweets to youngsters who demonstrate kindness toward others.
As part of the celebrations for Krampusnacht 2022, I gave out free samples of Krampus Tea, made by Appalachian Folkology.
I’d like to wish everyone a blessed Krampusnacht and may you forever be kind. If you’d like to read my version of the Krampus story, you can pick up at copy of Zinfandel’s Grimoire at Conquest Books or order off of Amazon.
Krampusnacht book launch for Zinfandel’s Grimoire: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WO66uX4ejCE&t=1198s
The Krampus and the Old, Dark Christmas: Roots and Rebirth of the Folkloric Devil https://www.amazon.com/Krampus-Old-Dark-Christmas-Folkloric/dp/1627310347/ref=sr_1_3?crid=1UA5CZLBWVCBU&keywords=krampus+book&qid=1670199413&sprefix=krampus%2Caps%2C108&sr=8-3
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke https://www.ninds.nih.gov/health-information/patient-caregiver-education/hope-through-research/cerebral-palsy-hope-through-research#3104_2
Saint Nicholas Center https://www.stnicholascenter.org/who-is-st-nicholas