Putting Krampus Back in Christmas


Peter Escalante writes about the dark folk figure, and echoes the Lutheran Law-Gospel dynamics in the tradition.

But it is true that this companion of jolly St Nick is depicted as dragging wicked children down to Hell, and how much more devilish can you get? However, according to Luther, it is not only the Devil who does this. For Luther, as for the Protestant consensus generally, the Law, as accuser, has as its office precisely “to make us guilty, to humble us, to kill us, to lead us down to hell “.  But it does all this real accusation and metaphorical violence, of course, in order to prepare hearts for the Gospel; the Law is ever the close companion of the Gospel, and its crushing work is done to break our pride so that we might be saved. If benevolent St Nicholas of popular imagination, the giver of gifts as signs of the greatest gift, the giving of the Son of God to us,  is rather obviously a personification of the Gospel, then perhaps the 19th c (and even earlier) Krampus- the companion of St Nick- is a popular symbol of the Law in its office as accuser of conscience. And even where Krampus or Belsnickel gives rewards to the good children, here too there is a correspondence to the Law, which rewards good deeds for what they are. But the Gospel offers perfect peace and joy regardless of either the Law’s terrors or its rewards; it is pure gift, an unconditional gift of which parents’ Christmas gifts to their children are an image, for no good parent gives gifts as bribes for good behavior, but rather from love.