A hundred year ago, Santa Claus didn't bother with keeping track of bad children who deserved coal lumps in their stockings. He had a devilish pal named Krampus who took care of the kids on the naughty list. With his red skin, shaggy black coat of fur, obscene pointed tongue, cloven hooves, pointed tail, and sharp horns emanating from his forehead, Krampus carried a switch to beat young miscreants senseless, after which he'd toss them in his backpack and drag them to his uncomfortably warm subterranean lair.
In the late 19th century and early 20th century, “Grüß Vom Krampus” (Greetings from Krampus) cards were popular in Europe. The evening of December 5th was Krampusnacht, when Krampus would descend upon villages to terrorize youngsters who wondered with horror whether their transgressions over the past year warranted a one way trip to hell in a hand basket.
By the mid-1930s the legend of the Krampus was on its way out. What remained of Krampus was sanitized and santa-ized (think of The Grinch, who undergoes a Fonzie-like metamorphosis from a misanthropic menace into a lover of humankind). But Krampus has been making a comeback. Check out this video of a Krampus attack in an Italian village, where drunk young men in costume are given free reign to beat the heck out of townspeople with long sticks.
What better to way to celebrate the return of the Krampus with this set of Krampus greeting cards from Last Gasp? With art selected from Monte Beauchamp's historical postcard book, Krampus: The Devil of Christmas, the set comes with 20 cards (two each of ten designs) in a metal tin. My daughter Jane was fascinated by the cards, and she had a great time sorting them in order of scariness.