When I first saw the images from the White House Christmas decor, I immediately thought “Melania is honoring her heritage!” Melania Trump is from Slovenia, one of several Central European-Balkan nations that include “companions” in their holiday traditions – typically frightening beasts who acommpany St. Nicholas for some reason or another, manifesting the consequences of naughty.
In fact, Krampus’ roots have nothing to do with Christmas. Instead, they date back to pre-Germanic paganism in the region. His name originates with the German krampen, which means “claw,” and tradition has it that he is the son of the Norse god of the underworld, Hel. During the 12th century, the Catholic Church attempted to banish Krampus celebrations because of his resemblance to the devil. More eradication attempts followed in 1934 at the hands of Austria’s conservative Christian Social Party. But none of it held, and Krampus emerged as a much-feared and beloved holiday force.
This austere look seems exactly like a space where a Krampus, Perchta, or Belsnickel might sneak. If you read up on the companions, you’ll see a lot of references to sticks and snow. And evil doers who need to be dealt with by the forces of evil.