In Australia, we tend to celebrate Christmas in a pretty conventional fashion. It varies a little from family to family and across geography of course, but the broad strokes tend to go something like this:
-Visit a relative’s place for a BBQ and prawns
-Off to the beach
Adherence to Christianity is far from mandatory for participation; for many it’s a rather secular affair. It’s not very hard work to trace a lot of the symbols (e.g. the tree, mistletoe) back to pagan Europe, but such is the way that culture shifts over time. But my overall point is that Christmas in Australia is a pretty pedestrian affair; Santa is jolly, gifts are abundant and there is food and drink aplenty.
But in other parts of the world, it’s a little…different. In parts of Europe, a lot more of the pre-Christian culture has survived into modern Christmas celebrations – and some of it is absolutely terrifying. One such example is the Krampus.
I probably first became aware of him a few years ago, when I was putting together an article for my then-day job on unusual Christmas traditions from around the world. Having spent quite a bit of time with Dutch people from childhood, I already knew about (the frequently controversial) Zwarte Piet – but the Krampus was fairly new territory.
Hailing from the Austrian Alps, he’s a half-goat, half-demon, who’s a companion of the holy St. Nicholas. Rather than bringing gifts for good children (St. Nicholas looks after those) he delivers punishments to naughty kids. All fun and games, like getting a lump of coal in your stocking, right? Maybe nowadays, but in ye olden times there were stories of him throwing naughty kids into his bag, dragging them off and either eating them or throwing them into Hell.
How seriously anyone took this is up for debate, but look at him. Imagine getting one of those cards in the mail as a kid. It’s a slightly more intimidating prospect than ending up on Santa’s naughty list, isn’t it? As might be expected, these days he’s a little more sedate, and “only” tends to hit kids with his bundle of birch branches.
Like many pagan holdovers that got turned into Christmas traditions, Krampus has also generated his share of controversy over the years. Conservative Christians are frequently not fans (perhaps not surprising, given his obvious resemblance to the Medieval depiction of the devil) and the Dolfuss regime tried to stamp out his presence from the 1920s to the 1950s.
Still, these efforts don’t seem to have dulled his popularity; if anything, the last few years have seen him have something of a renaissance, both in Europe and in America. And so we now have a Krampus from Funko.
Funko are staking more than you might expect on this POP – there’s a regular version and a flocked version, both of which also have a chase. There’s also a “frozen” FYE exclusive too, though it doesn’t seem to be out yet. I assume it’ll just be available at Popcultcha in Australia.
For myself, I just went with the regular version. It’s a fantastic POP; a nice, chunky piece of plastic. He’s massive, and bedecked with all the trappings you’d expect; big horns, big tongue, chains around his body and holding a whip. Turn him around and you’ll even see he’s wearing a basket on his back, complete with a naughty kid peeking out, who’s no doubt destined for some kind of terrible punishment.
While the paint lines could definitely be cleaner, this is still a great figure. The only real downside is that there's no Saint Nicholas to accompany him, though Funko did make a Rankin-Bass-style Santa a few years ago.
I can’t quite see Krampus ever taking off in the same way in Australia that he has in other parts of the world. The climate’s wrong for one thing. But will he garner a cult following? All the signs point to h*ck yes. If you like the macabre, the unusual, or just want a different take on Christmas, this is a must-buy.