Many people know that the modern image of Santa Claus is in fact a marketing concept from a '50s Coca-Cola advertisement campaign. But like most icons and traditions that have been co-opted by Christianity and other corporations, the history behind Santa Claus has much more depth than the popular, saccharine, commercial image. Mr. Claus is, indeed, an amalgam of characters and traditions, which include: Odin, the Norse god; the Wild Man, from European paganism; and Krampus, from Alpine folklore.
Contrary to Santa's tendency to reward good children, Krampus is a horned beast who keeps it real by punishing bad ones. Perhaps it has been people's desire for mischief that has created a resurgence of the Krampus, but whatever it was that stirred the pot, this year there will be a new Krampus movie, a third annual Los Angeles Krampus Ball, and various other Krampus celebrations throughout SoCal. In an attempt to embrace the essence of the folklore (and not merely celebrate the ghoulish aspects of the character), Anaheim's own Bavarian-Austrian folk dance group, Die Gemütlichen Schuhplattler [approximately translated: Your friendly, neighborhood shoe-slappers], is presenting a free Krampus Festival on Thursday, at the Phoenix Club, in Anaheim.
Guests will be able to purchase drinks and food as they enjoy the free entertainment, which includes a new Krampus play, traditional costumes, live traditional music by Almrausch Tanzlmusi, and, or course, traditional dancing. The group's event planner, Hanna Habereder, told the Weekly that one of the goals of this event was to showcase a Krampus who is "not as bitter and harsh as the one you see at the Los Angeles event." Habereder is from Vienna, Austria, and she and her fellow troupe members wanted to share how the Krampus was depicted in the cities and in the countryside of their homeland.
Another member of Schuhplattler, Lisa Hauptmann, wrote and directed the 30 minute play that will demonstrate that unless children want to be carried away in Krampus's sack, they will behave well and earn the gifts of St. Nicholas, who arrives later in the month. Despite the fact that Hauptmann is of German descent, she only became aware of the Krampus via an Internet meme from a few years ago. This peaked her interest about the character, and she performed her own research into its history. She admits, "I think people are fascinated with the idea that there is a 'darker' side to Christmas in some cultures. It's novel and brings a bit of a thrill to Christmas beyond all of the goodness and joy. In America the worst thing that can happen to you is you get a lump of coal in your stocking!"
While the lore of the Krampus is fairly new to Hauptmann, the Schuhplattlers are historically linked to the tradition. She says, "Our dance group specializes in dances from Bavaria Austria (Alpine folk dances) where the legend of Krampus comes from, so even though all of our members may not have grown up with that tradition, it is the tradition we have chosen to represent because it is in keeping with the theme of our group."
Though the group has various festivals throughout the year, including an Oktoberfest, this is the first time they have created a theatrical presentation which frames their folk dances into a historical context. Hauptmann reveals that the play is set around 1895, when Schuhplattler first gained popularity. The costuming is authentic and will reflect the era faithfully. Also, for an additional dose of authenticity, the play will be performed in the traditional manner of Bauern Theater ["Farmer's Theater"], which Hauptmann says "is a small community melodrama style play that would have been performed in rural towns across Bavaria and Austria for hundreds of years."