Krampus is Coming!

KRAMPUS IS COMING!  Well, Krampus came and went, thankfully overlooking my home this year and saving my children for another Christmas in 364 days. When I told a friend and colleague about Krampus not long ago, I received an earful about the damaging, scaring nature of such a legend. I learned that Krampus was, so it turned out, was as bad as violent video games, eating too much salt or drowning kittens. Ethnocentrism and the need to pass judgment on anything outside our particular cultural milieu seems to be as strong a drive as it has always been.


Krampus, for those unfamiliar with the tradition, is a demonic creature recognized in many of the Alpine countries. According to legend, Krampus accompanies St. Nick during the Christmas season, punishing bad children – but lumps of coal are not part of his repertoire. When the Krampus finds a particularly naughty child, he stuffs the child into his sack and carries the frightened child away to his lair, where he presumably makes the child the centerpiece of his Christmas dinner.

Krampus is represented as a beast like creature, generally demonic in appearance, with sharp horns and a great lolling tongue. The creature has roots in Germanic folklore. During the first week of December, particularly on the evening of 5 December, young men dress in costumes in parts of Austria, Bavaria and Hungary, roaming the streets and frightening children with rusty chains and bells.

But is Krampus really such an appalling figure? Will Krampus really lead our children to lives of murder or blind fear of the dark? I hardly think so. Yes, Krampus is frightening, but regardless of what we want to believe, children are remarkably adept at distinguishing transitory, entertaining fear from the real thing. There is increasing data, for example, to support the idea that children are decidedly capable of distinguishing cartoonish violence from the real thing. Those violent video games are simply not turning kids into sociopaths. Are they reprehensible? Perhaps, but there is no proof correlating video games with increased violence or people becoming desensitized to the suffering of others. So too with traditions like Krampus.

Krampus is a representation of the fear of winter.  He is a harsh counterpoint to the perfect kindness of Santa. He is binary response to the unattainable notion of goodness and love. He is, in a sense, an answer to the questions children have about the inexplicable selflessness of a bearded gift-giver they have never met. Krampus is indeed frightening, but he is also cartoonish and meant to convey something symbolic rather than literal, and children are far more adept and teasing this out than we would like to believe.

So what does this have to do with businesses? Perhaps very little.  On the other hand, it might mean that there are opportunities to embrace strategies that speak to the darker side of winter and the Christmas celebration. Simply assuming that one cultural norm fits all is a lost opportunity.

Published by gavinjohnston67

Take an ex-chef who’s now a full-fledge anthropologist and set him free to conduct qualitative research, ethnography, brand positioning, strategy and sociolinguistics studies and you have Gavin. He is committed to understand design and business problems by looking at them through an anthropological lens. He believes deeply in turning research findings into actionable results that provide solid business strategies and design ideas. It's not an insight until you do something with it. With over 18 years of experience in strategy, research, and communications, he has done research worldwide for a diverse set of clients within retail, legal, banking, automotive, telecommunications, health care and consumer products industries.

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