The counter-culture folks at National Public Radio are a natural stomping ground for Christmas, and stomp they have. NPR aired a story last week headlined "Pepper-Spraying the Holidays," and on Saturday morning's Weekend Edition, they were charmed by the old tradition of Krampus the Christmas demon in a story headlined "Horror for the Holidays: Meet the Anti-Santa." What NPR won't air later this month: any anti-Kwanzaa mockery.
Reporter Peter Crimmins of Philadelphia NPR station WHYY reported the Krampus advocates really hate the Christmas season. Joseph Ragan of Portland proclaimed, "Of all the 10,000 holidays that can be celebrated, we just have this one particular version of this one particular holiday really shoved down our throats for months at a time in the most saccharine form." These anti-"saccharine" haters are cheered by the stories of the Christmas demon eating children alive.
Crimmins began in Philadelphia with Janet Finegar bleaching rib bones in the sun: "She will drape the bones over herself and wear them like a grisly tunic. It's her Krampus costume." Finegar is nauseated by Christmas:
CRIMMINS: The Krampus is a character from European Alpine folklore that's common in Austria and Switzerland. The creature stands on two hooves, has horns growing out of its skull, an extremely long tongue hangs out of its mouth, and it carries a basket to haul away naughty children. For hundreds of years, the Krampus and Saint Nicholas have worked a kind of good cop, bad cop routine. Saint Nick rewards the good children; Krampus terrorizes the bad. For Finegar, it's the perfect antidote for Christmas.
FINEGAR: If everything is sweet and beautiful and lovely and the most wonderful time of the year, some people, like me, start to get a little nauseated; want a little salt to go with the sugar. I think there's a lot of people out there who enjoy the idea of having a little salt.
CRIMMINS: Around the country, there are Krampus parties and club nights in December where people dress in leftover Halloween costumes to drink and dance. But Finegar is helping to organize a traditional Krampuslauf. That's a procession of people dressed as Krampus walking through the streets with noisemakers. The idea for today's Krampuslauf in Philadelphia came from Amber Dorko Stopper, a mother of two.
AMBER DORKO STOPPER: Spooky and scary has had a place in Christmas historically. "A Christmas Carol" is a ghost story with scary things in it. And I hate to see things get watered down because I remember how much fun those things are.
CRIMMINS: Krampus parades are rare in the United Sates. Last year, Joseph Ragan organized one in Portland, Oregon as a reaction to the way Christmas dominates the winter season.
JOSEPH RAGAN: Of all the 10,000 holidays that can be celebrated, we just have this one particular version of this one particular holiday really shoved down our throats for months at a time in the most saccharine form.
CRIMMINS: Consider that Christmas Muzak you hear in grocery stores before Thanksgiving. [Audio clip of a nice piano rendering of "Silent Night'] That really annoys Amber Stopper. She's a fan of horror movies, and enjoys the folk tales of Krampus stealing children, throwing them into an icy rivers or eating them alive.
STOPPER: Then I realized really quickly how that was not popular in this time period as a parent of small children. And that was seen as suspicious behavior almost immediately. 'Cause everything is so soft-pedaled these days with kids, to the point where you're not showing any kind of conflict to your kids, much less folklore.
CRIMMINS: But even Stopper admits there are limits.
STOPPER: Since both of our children are adopted, we're a little extra-sensitive to talking about being taken away. But we don't do a lot of 'You're going to be taken away and never returned.' But we did tell them that he'll take you to his house. You'll have to eat spicy vegetables and watch boring adult television and then he'll bring you home.
CRIMMINS: The horror. The horror. For NPR News, I'm Peter Crimmins in Philadelphia.
Notice that NPR and Crimmins didn't actually seek out any American who might be critical of "Krampuslauf." They glorify "dissent" in cases like this and don't seek out people who like Christmas and Santa Claus. Perhaps NPR ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos will be persuaded that NPR will see the bias and insist there should have more balance in a story like this.
On the December 6 All Things Considered, the story on "Pepper-Spraying the Holidays" was a commentary by college professor Adam Frank, a self-described "evangelist of science" and co-founder of NPR's Cosmos and Culture blog:
It's an ongoing and depressing holiday tradition. Every year in December, thousands of human beings stream into big-box stores searching for things: objects to place under a tree, objects to present to one another. Things they will soon forget all about once the ground begins to thaw and the snow starts to melt. Things that simply will not last and that we simply do not need. Heading into the holidays, maybe we can reflect for a moment on the roots of our collective consumer delusion.
This is where you have to smile a little at the idea that religious people are the "judgmental" ones. Who gets to decide what Christmas gifts you "need"? Is there excessive materialism at Christmas? It certainly conflicts with the religious vision of Christmas. But that doesn't mean you have to trash it all as "collective consumer delusion." Frank is one of those liberals who wants everyone to cut their Christmas gift-giving in half (go ahead, help keep the economy slow for Obama) or offer donations to "Heifer International" as a gift, since our planet is in danger of fatal over-consumption:
But at this moment in history, we desperately need to figure out if a balance can exist between what we make and how much we take in terms of planetary resources, which brings me back to the holidays.
Since most of what we do in the next month is voluntary, the holidays give us a wonderful opportunity to opt out of what's happening and do something different. Here's what I mean. What if you simply bought half as many gifts this year? That's it, just half. And what if those gifts were really well-made? Things that will last. For each gift you don't buy, you could write a card and tell that person that they're important to you. If you have kids, get them one cool thing that relates to nature and the environment. How about a book about tigers? Everybody loves books about tigers.
If they're old enough, use that present to explain the links between all of our stuff and the natural world. For adults, you could even replace presents with gifts in their name to something like Heifer International. Rather than yet another Christmas sweater, they'll see that money go to buying cows and chickens for families that need them.
These are ideas I'll try with my newfound holiday time consciousness. I'm sure you have your own. The point here is to be creative because that's what human beings do best. The question for all of us, though, is this: Can we opt out of this crazy shopping frenzied holiday time and create something new, something better, something that can truly sustain us all?
Bah, humbug. NPR is your Scrooge Network.