Let us begin with a truth that is surely incontrovertible: the existence of Santa Claus. Every year on the night of December 24, he sets out in a flying sleigh drawn by a team of reindeer led by one equipped with a magnificent nasal beacon, and circumnavigates the Earth. In the course of his journey he stops atop each and every house, climbs down the chimney with his bulging sack, consumes whatever seasonal treats are left for him and dispenses whatever is deserved: good girls have their stockings stuffed with goodies, bad ones get their bottoms soundly spanked. And he does it all with such efficiency that the entire job is completed before the dawn of Christmas morning.
Nobody could possibly have any trouble believing that, and in any case there’s a wealth of photographic evidence, some of it available on this site, that puts the matter entirely beyond reasonable doubt. Which is bad news for naughty girls everywhere.
But can we apply the same reasoning to the Krampus? A creature with a long tongue permanently lolling out of a mouth equipped with razor-sharp pointy teeth? Surely he’s perpetually in danger of biting it off – meaning that, by any ordinary law of natural selection, such a creature could never have evolved in the first place. A being whose raison d’etre is to collect up children and take them away in his sack? Be honest, what parent, even of a badly behaved child, would really countenance that? Such a being would not be celebrated but declared a public menace! And as for his other function of spanking naughty grown-up girls, isn’t that a needless duplication of a job already covered by the jolly man in red?
So, unlike Santa, the Krampus is an altogether implausible figure to begin with. And though there are many photos of him doing his duty, he’s obviously just a man in a suit, rampaging around like an underbudgeted monster in an early episode of Doctor Who.
Now, here’s a strange thing: an online search for Krampus pictures will typically return many, many more drawings than photographs, as compared with a similar search for Santa.
There are many different degrees of stylization to be found: some of the artwork is more or less realistic,
The range goes all the way from precise line drawing to rendered color:
Some are drawn in styles so individually distinctive that they present a real challenge to one’s descriptive powers.
Some people get the Krampus tattooed onto themselves. Here are a couple of the available designs:
He’s a very popular figure in German greetings cards.
And one of those cards starts to unlock the mystery of why, compared with Santa, there are so many Krampus pictures and so few authenticated Krampus sightings.
Now consider the following more recent images:
These are three very different pictures, but you’ll notice straight away the one macabre detail they have in common: just like in the vintage postcard, each of the girls is being spanked with a handful of snakes. A longer look will reveal the way other elements carry over from the original to one or more of the newer pictures, in particular aspects of the pose, but also in one case the tree stump the Krampus is sitting on. As we have seen elsewhere, that is how a lot of art is created: not from observation, but by the imaginative transformation of other works of art.
The conclusion is inescapable: the Krampus is only a fantasy, a mythical being who features in stories and pictures concocted by human beings, transfered from drawing to drawing in neverending series, with no direct basis in anything that exists in real life.
But what about that small but not non-existent number of Krampus sightings, and the photographic evidence thereof?
Well, you know I said he looked like a man in a monster costume? That’s because… he is a man in a monster costume!
So there it is. Naughty girls do still need to beware of Santa.
But they can take comfort in the certain knowledge that the Krampus is nothing but a mere figment of the human imagination.
Er… isn’t he?