Where did Krampus come from?


The Biology of Krampus
Krampus' tongue as witnessed in a 1911 Viennese greeting card.
Krampus' tongue as witnessed in a 1911 Viennese greeting card.
Photo by Imagno/Getty Images

Yes, the bestial Krampus is purely folkloric, and details regarding his appearance and behavior are rather amorphous. His exact appearance varies depending on time, place and available costuming materials. In fact, the more you explore the nature of Krampus, the more you come to see him as a byproduct of accumulated beliefs, traditions and primal fears.

But what if he were real? What could we say about this bipedal, cloven-hoofed monster? And what about that lolling, serpentine tongue? Let's slip on our goat-fur cryptozoologist pants and dream a little.

We might assume Krampus is a meat eater, given his often-fanged appearance and penchant for child abduction. And if human children factor into his diet, then his tongue might serve as a means to procure them. In some early-20th century postcards, we observe this prehensile appendage wrapping its way around an unruly child. Nothing in our natural world quite matches this biological adaptation, however. Iguanas, frogs and woodpeckers all use elongated tongues to snatch their prey, but Krampus' large tongue would seem to enwrap and constrict significantly larger targets.

The closest match we find in nature is the 18-20 inch (45-50 centimeter) prehensile giraffe tongue, which it coils around shoots and leaves. This might seem to suggest Krampus feeds primarily on vegetation, as is certainly more befitting of the orders Bovidae (which includes cloven-hoofed goats) and Artiodactyla (which includes even-toed ungulate giraffes).

But perhaps Krampus is something else entirely: a hoofed carnivore descended from the extinct order Mesonychid, predatory land ungulates — or a relative of the long-extinct Artiodactyla Andrewsarchus, which some paleontologists interpret as a cloven-hoofed carnivore.

Perhaps the balance is a bipedal omnivore that feasts on abundant greens in the summer and cruelly-won meat in the winter — a notion that fits well into Krampus' legacy as a monster born of winter survivalism and post-harvest anxiety.

Author's Note: Krampus

I gravitate towards Krampus for the same reason lots of other people do. As our Western, commercialized holiday season spirals out of control and countless advertisements project expectations of mandatory seasonal bliss, some of us pine for a dark savior — a symbol to balance out all that forced Christmas cheer with a little apocalyptic dread. Sure, the horned one grows a little more popular each year, carving an ever-larger pop-cultural niche. But, as this article explores, you can't quite nail old Krampus down. He's wild, uncultured, inherently antiestablishment and always injects some much needed madness into our holiday celebrations.

Related Articles

More Great Links

Sources

  • "Andrewsarchus." BBC Nature. 2015. (Dec. 4, 2015) http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Andrewsarchus
  • Bruce, Maurice. "The Krampus in Styria." Folklore. 1958 (Dec. 4, 2015)http://www.tandfonlie.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0015587X.1958.9717121?journalCode=rfol20
  • Eckardt, Andy. "Austrian Villagers to Refugees: Please Don't Fear Krampus." NBC News. Dec. 1, 2015. (Dec. 4, 2015)http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/austrian-villager-refugees-please-dont-fear-krampus-n471906
  • Frazer, James George. "The Golden Bough: A Study of Magic and Religion." Project Gutenberg. 1890. (Dec. 4, 2015)http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3623/3623-h/3623-h.htm
  • "Have a Very Scary Christmas." The New York Times. Dec. 23, 2000. (Dec. 4, 2015)http://www.nytimes.com/2000/12/23/weekinreview/24ZELL.html
  • Honigmann, John J. "The Masked Face: Krampus in the Saint Nicholas Festival." Ethos: Journal of the Society of Psychological Anthropology. Sept. 1977. (Dec. 4, 2015)http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1525/eth.1977.5.3.02a00020/pdf
  • Jehle, Martin "Carnivores, creodonts and carnivorous ungulates: Mammals become predators." Paleocene mammals of the world. (Dec. 4, 2015)http://www.paleocene-mammals.de/predators.htm
  • "Krampus and Perchten Runs." Salzburg.info. 2015. (Dec. 4, 2015)http://www.salzburg.info/en/art_culture/advent_new_years_eve/krampus_percht
  • "KRAMPUS DISLIKED IN FASCIST AUSTRIA; Genial Black and Red Devil, Symbol of Christmas Fun, Is Frowned Upon." The New York Times. Dec. 23, 1934. (Dec. 4, 2015)http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9E03EED7103EE53ABC4B51DFB467838F629EDE
  • "Perchtenläufe: Salzburg′s Pagan Heritage." Visit-Salzburg.net. (Dec. 4, 2015)http://www.visit-salzburg.net/travel/perchten.htm
  • Zawadil, Alexandra. "Santa's evil sidekick gives jolly fright to kids." Reuters News.Dec. 6, 2006. (Dec. 4, 2015) http://uk.reuters.com/article/2006/12/07/lifestyle-austria-christmas-devil-dc-idUKL0438534320061207

More to Explore