A ‘Greetings from the Kampus’ Christmas postcard from the early 1900s (source: Wikipedia)
Just in time for this Christmas season, there is a new movie in theaters with a twist on Santa, Krampus (view trailer here). Krampus is actually an ancient, Alpine pagan character from pre-Christian Austria, a horrific beast who comes once year to scare children into good behavior. As the Gospel spread in that part of Europe centuries ago, the legend of Krampus got intertwined with the celebration of the Christian feast day for Saint Nicholas, on December 6. Old habits are hard to break! National Geographic has an informative write-up on the revival of Krampus celebrations, which generally takes place the night before Saint Nicholas’ day.
As Western culture continues to loosen its moorings to Christendom, it should not surprise us that Krampus makes his way to America. Krampus is yet another attempt in postmodernity to distract us from considering the mystery of the Incarnation. But it would be wrong-headed for Christians to dismiss Christmas itself as simply being of some pagan invention because of Krampus. We really need to be a bit “tongue in cheek” about this. So, I thought it might be helpful to relink a couple of older Veracity posts that dive into the history:
American cultural icon every December, dangerous pagan tradition, or Christian pastor in southern Turkey in the 4th. century who exemplified a love for the poor by following the way of Jesus?
Growing up as a little kid, my mother left a big chocolate chip cookie out on a plate in front of the living room fireplace one Christmas Eve. When I woke up the next morning, the cookie was half-eaten, with crumbs unmistakably left on the plate.
When I came to having personal faith in Christ in high school, I looked back on the childlike belief in Santa Claus as a type of feel-good fairly tale. Jesus was the “real thing” while this jolly “Saint Nick” figure was simply a product of cultural imagination… merely an urban legend.
It must have been my dad who ate part of that cookie.
In the contemporary era of the so-called “War on Christmas,” Christians have faced the awkward challenge of what to do with “Saint Nick.” Secularists for years had suggested that old “Saint Nick” was simply a pious invention having no relevant historical basis. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians, however, have argued that Saint Nicholas was indeed a real historical figure from the 4th century, and so only vaguely related to the “ho-ho-ho” North Pole type glamorized by the old 1931 Coca-Cola ads. Evangelical Protestants, who tend to frown upon the veneration of saints, have sought to distance themselves somehow from Saint Nick in different ways, some even dismissing the history of the original figure as being of pagan origin (just as some secularists still do). Indeed, perhaps one of the reasons why the ancient Saint Nicholas evolved into the jolly guy with an obesity problem driving a bunch reindeer around in a sleigh filled with merchandise from Target and J.C Penny’s is because the majority of American Christians since the 19th century have been reluctant to associate with the practice of venerating dead saints.
Various attempts have been made in recent years to rehabilitate the true history of the original Saint Nicholas and get at what Paul Harvey called “the rest of the story.” Campbell University’s Adam C. English has probably done the most thorough research into Saint Nicholas to give us the detailed scoop. In The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus, argues that the evidence shows that actually the original “Saint Nicholas of Myra” did come from 4th. century southern Turkey, serving as a Christian pastor and a popular bishop who advocated for the poor. Beyond that, the exact details get a bit murky.