Old Christmas was Darker Than you Think

Krampusz, Saturn, Father Christmas, Saint Lucy or the Christ Child:

An Eldritch Evolution of Christmas


Above: Santa Claus as a mask over the face of Krampusz!

Not to put a damper on your Christmas festivities, but this little diversion might be interesting to those who wonder about the  ancient rites associated, not with  a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, but with the primal need of our ancestors to assist the sun’s rebirth from the darkness of winter and the coming of the light. As a writer of Gothic fiction, I find the lure of the darkness strong, along with the desire to throw back the curtain that hides a primordial mystery. In researching the history of Old Christmas, I found some unexpected things.

In my Dark Fantasy novel, Roses of the Moon, Christmas is celebrated in the old way of Central Europe, in this case 16-17th century Royal Hungary. Though my heroine, Lady Mara, is raised Catholic, her mother, Countess Orzsebet, still carries on the ancient pagan rite of Winter Solstice as Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun. Though Roses of the Moon is a book of high fantasy, I still had to do a lot of research to capture the atmosphere of Hungary in a time parallel to Elizabethan England, and to learn about Hungarian folklore, seasonal celebrations, and fairy tales in order to back up the magic in the story.

I discovered Krampusz. For those of us brought up on Nativity scenes and eight tiny reindeer, this is a scary figure indeed. Not only does he have all the attributes of the Devil with his horns and his long tongue, but he steals children. In Roses of the Moon, Countess Orzsebet, a Bathoryesque evil queen who bathes in the blood of young girls, he was an apt sidekick and a wonderful disguise for the true driver of the tale, the Demon Prince, Lucifer.


The attributes of Saturn are all over this figure. Astrologically, Saturn rules the sign of Capricorn, the goat, and is the traditional ruler of Aquarius, the Water Bearer. Krampusz is certainly goat-like with his horns and hoofs, he is black like the darkest night of Winter Solstice, as harsh as the cold, cutting wind and pretty hungry. Image after image of Krampusz shows him carrying off terrified children. The color of Saturn is black, and his appetite for children is legendary.


The image above combines Capricorn, the goat, with Aquarius, the Water Bearer, or perhaps, Bearer of the Punch Bowl. This Santa Clause, or Father Christmas, has a lean and hungry look. What will he fatten up on, if he is Saturn?

This is pretty creepy stuff, and its truth has long been buried. Krampusz has come out into the light for all of us to see and wonder at, especially in countries like America where these archetypal figures had been left behind and replaced by the safe but relatively empty glitz of mass merchandising.

There are lots of pictures of Krampusz online. They expose a dark side to Old Christmas that most civilized people would like to believe has been left in the Dark Ages.


Blatant child stealing in the image above. Does mere naughtiness deserve such cruelty? Or is something more going on?


Father Christmas and Krampusz in Salzburg, Germany. Could these be Santa’s elves? And why does Father Christmas look like a Bishop or a Pope, and why is he leading them out of Hell?


The Father Christmas, or Santa Clause, we all know and love. But what really is in that bag of his? And what is in his belly? The church is like a toy beside this powerful figure who comes out of the darkness bearing the promise of new, and everlasting life. The power of nature seems to dwarf the house of God.

Though their purposes may seem the same, I don’t think of Father Christmas as a Christ figure.  But the figure of Saint Lucy, or Santa Lucia, bearer of the light in the darkness, has also been called the Christ Child.


Above: The Christ Child by Hans Trapp

This image is worth an entire blog post. It suggests a meaning for Christmas in Old Europe that has nothing in common with the holiday we celebrate today—-unless your name is  Jon Benet Ramsey!

Clearly this Christ Child is female. She is Saint Lucy, Santa Lucia, whose festival is most famously celebrated in Sweden. She comes from the north, her head crowned with flames , bearing gifts for the good little children who seem uncertain whether to accept these baubles, while a brother and sister cower in the corner. The mother clearly wants to protect her naughty children from the creature who has just leapt in through the window: Krampusz, looking goatier and more sinister than ever. His body  is charged with sexuality, his willow switch is raised; he leers at the children. And what that is on his head, only the artist must know for sure. His entire aspect is predatory.

One must wonder what kind of Christmas celebration this is.

Lucy means Light and is often shorthand for Lucifer, the Angel of Light synonymous with the Devil. Krampusz is clearly the Devil. The word Christ means Anointed One, and can be applied to other beings besides Jesus. Folklore has it that Lucifer sits on the left hand of God, brother to Jesus Christ, and that he, too, claims to be a Christ.

Was Old Christmas a wicked old holiday? Or does the brightness of the light and the happiness of the Divine Birth simply cast a deeper shadow all around? Winter for our ancestors must have been a fearsome time when warmth and illumination came only by fire, wolves prowled the lanes looking for food, iron cold stole the breath from small children, and food stores ran low.

May the power of the Holy Birth bring peace and salvation to the world. May the devils of our fears cease to rule us.  Joy to the world, the Lord has come!