Krampus on the front

On the day of the winter solstice Russia surprised the world with an unforgettable gift. But we cannot stay behind them. On the same day, indeed, we presented the world with the krampus.

Our post for the day of Santa Claus appears at the same time here, at río Wang, and on the Great War blog.
“We”, I say, and I mean the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, since the krampus as Santa Claus’ assistant was unknown before the 20th century outside of the Austrian provinces, Bohemia and Hungary. And on that day, because, although the krampus accompanies the holy bishop from house to house on the sixth of December, carrying his sack and threatening bad children, in fact he was born on the day of the winter solstice. In the villages of the Austrian Alps since ancient times they have organized on the darkest day of the year the procession chasing away the evil with noise and fire (a video from Graz). After the conversion to Christianity, the masked figures were connected with St. Nicholas – Santa Claus –, who, according to his legend, chained up the devil, so they also paraded in his gift-sharing suite on the sixth of December.

Procession of St. Nicholas in Styria at the beginning of the 20th century, and nowadays.

The mask was not always a mandatory accessory of the krampus on St. Nicholas’ day

In the Austrian countryside, where the custom is still alive, the masked figures of the folk procession also accompany the holy bishop on the St. Nicholas Day’s postcards published since the 1890s. Where this folk model was unknown, they adjusted the figure to the popular devil representations. But an inevitable hallmark of the krampus was the long tongue shot out, with which he frightened the children, the birch-rod, with which he threatened the bad ones, and the dorsel, in which he put the utterly incorrigible ones with his great claws – Krampe – which also gave his name.

Austria, 1920s, and a modern retro postcard

The representations of the krampus are infinite. Depending on the wild or tame imagination and sense of humor of the graphic artist, he could appear in the form of an elegant playboy carrying a krampus’ mask, an ugly beast frightening or beating children and protruding his long red tongue, a hairy-hoofed-horned beast roasting human hearts, a naughty devil seducing women; or, on the contrary, a woman seducing men or teaching a lesson to her husband; or eventually a furry little beast caught by the mistress of the house and deprived of his birch-rod, etc.

The most original and most beautiful krampus postcards, graphics by renowned artists in limited editions, were published by the Wiener Werkstätte. In Hungary one has to remember the krampus figure by the great Art Nouveau artist Lajos Kozma from the 1910, which was, however, considered too bold and unusual by the local public.

The First World War has also inspired special krampus themes.

On children’s postcard

Spreading his birch-rod like bombs from an airplane

Punishing the enemies of the central powers:

Or putting on uniform to teach a lesson to the enemy:

Sometimes he plays “wartime Santa Claus”, throwing flour from above:

But it also may be the opposite, when the enemy is the krampus, that is, the devil himself, who is punished or mocked by our soldiers:

And there is one typically Hungarian krampus motif: the “red devil”, that is, the representation of the Hungarian hussar as a krampus.

The name of red devils – if we believe the rumors – was given by the Russian soldiers to the Hungarian hussars during the Great War. The illustrated appendix of the January 1916 edition of Tolnai Világlapja tells it like this:

“My name is red devil, although I’m no devil at all!
This name was given to me by our frightened Muscovite friends.
I am a Hungarian hussar, I have no match under the sky:
wherever I go, the enemy flees like a coward rabbit…”

The name red devils was also adopted by the hussars themselves, first by the soldiers of the 1st Hussar Regiment, and then by those of the 5th Cavalry Division. The motif also appears on the badges of these corps. That of the 1st Hussar Regiment, designed by the renowned painter Manno Miltiades, represents a red devil on horseback, while that of the 5th Cavalry Division a devil on foot, raising his rifle to beat the enemy.

Enamel badge of the 1st Hussar Regiment
(source: Gergely Sallay: Mindent a hazáért!)

Badge of the 5th Cavalry Division
(source: György Ságvári: A Magyar Királyi Honvédség és a honvédegyenruha 1868-1918)

The devil is of course primarily an embodiment of evil. Nevertheless, the name is still flattering, as it arouses fear in the enemy.

“And these smart beautiful boys are called by the Russians «red devils»…”
An advertisement postcard of the journal Előre

Sympathetic red devils

The motif of the red devils became the source of a large amount of jokes.

Graphics by Mihály Bíró, the later Communist propaganda artist

Postcards by Bernáth

2 comentarios:

dawnatilla dijo...

fantastic reporting ..thank you!! had a great time with this.

tarbandu dijo...

A fine post.....the Krampus brings a note of Old World sensibility and a nice alternative to the over-commercialized aspects of celebrating Christmas here in the USA