European Christian children have to contend not just with getting on Santa’s Naughty List, but also have to worry about the wrath of an angry demon named Krampus who will beat them with sticks and drag them to Hell if they don’t behave. Meanwhile, the worst American children have to deal with is the Elf on the Shelf, who may narc on them to Santa. So why doesn’t America have a Krampus (or any of several other European Christmas demons)?
For centuries, Christian children in Europe have been warned that if they don’t mind their P’s and Q’s, the goat-horned antithesis of Santa Claus will beat them or do other horrible things to them. Of course, it’s all in good “fun,” and these days many European cities view Krampus as an excuse to have a parade and get drunk.
But here in the States, other than a mediocre holiday-horror mashup (2015’s Krampus), he just isn’t a thing.
Why is that?
You can mostly blame poet Clement Moore, according to Quartz.
Moore is the New York poet whose 1823 poem, “A Visit From Saint Nicholas,” created the modern, American version of Santa Claus. The poem paints Saint Nicholas, who was a real, fourth-century Christian bishop, as a kindly, even jolly gift-giver.
However, what Moore left out of his poem is the fact that Saint Nicholas/Father Christmas/Santa Claus (or whatever else he’s called according to local lore) has an antithesis. European traditions, across several different cultures, all have companions to Saint Nicholas, most of whom are his opposite.
Or to put it another way, Moore focused on the good and left out the bad. Two centuries after Moore’s poem, Christian children in America know about Saint Nicholas bringing gifts, but thanks to Moore leaving out some important stuff, they don’t know about the anti-Santa.
For much of Europe, the anti-Santa is the demon Krampus, and what he does to naughty children varies by region. At the very least, he’s going to beat them, either with a bundle of birch branches or, in some versions, a whip. He may also drown them, eat them, or even drag them to Hell.
It’s not just Krampus. France has Pere Fouettard (Father Whipper), whose name needs no explanation. In Belgium and the Netherlands, there’s Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), an unfortunately-blackfaced elf who will beat the children, kidnap them, or both. In Iceland, Christian children must contend with Yule Lads who will steal the family’s sausage (Christmas must have been hardcore in Iceland centuries ago).
However, America may yet be warming up to Krampus. He already has a website, complete with an illustration of him dutifully spanking a miscreant boy, and his handlers have already scheduled Krampus Runs – similar to the drunken European Krampus parades – in several major cities.
However, whether or not you (as a parent) decide to scare your children into good behavior by threatening them with the wrath of an ancient European demon, we will leave to you.