Last March, as part of a greater exhibit on masks, our MSU Museum had a lovely small exhibit on "The Scary Mask of Krampus.
In Southern Germany and Austria, St. Nicholas comes to visit children on December 5 to see if they have been well behaved and done their schoolwork.
If they have, they receive a treat. If not, they have to answer to Krampus, the devilish and frightening traveling companion of the good St. Nicholas.
The exhibited depicted the good St. Nick and the evil Krampus.
Also included were other Santa masks, advertising and ephemera. (The mask below is from J.C. Penney Company.)
The beautifully curated exhibit (by the museum's Val Berryman, the ultimate holiday fan!) all featured masks (a theme at the museum this year) and other displayed items had some relationship to the story of Krampus or to Santa in general.
Collectively, the exhibit helps tell the story of "Santa" and the advantages of "being good" in cultures around the world. while also emphasizing the merriment and the intrigue of being concealed by a mask.
In Russia, Grandfather Frost is the Russian Version of Santa Claus. He and his granddaughter Snegurochka come to the children on New Year's Eve, rather than Christmas. The travel in a sleigh pulled by three horses.
Grandfather Frost pulls his gifts from a babushka or a scarf he has made into a bag.
The exhibit combines the vintage and the contemporary.
This Krampus mask (above) was made in 2004 in the shop of woodcarver Josef Streitfelder (Berchtesgaden, Germany) by his 26-year-old son, Stefan. Stefan also plays Krampus in the December 5 and 6 Saint Nicholas processions.
Modern day masks reflect Hollywood horror movie demons, such as the one above, made with real goat horns and fur pelts from long-meadow sheep.
Marketers have never been immune to using Santa to their advantage. The mask above was one given to children to promote a Christmas Savings Club at a bank in Auburn, Maine. (1930s/'40s)
This mask (linen-backed paper) was given out by the M&R Show Company of Toledo, Ohio.
This beautifully rendered mask (1920s-30s) advertises Bradley's Knit Wear.
Even restaurants took advantage of the "merry old elf." The menu below was given to children dining at the restaurant in the Strawbridge and Clothiers chain in Pennsylvania and Delaware in the 1940s and '50s.
The menu is printed on the back, with a full meal costing about 50 to 65 cents!
Of course, commercialism in the holidays and using Santa's image to sell is nothing new!
Santa appeared in a Parker Pens ad, while everyone familiar with Whitman Chocolates know they pull the heartstrings to sell candy at the holidays.
Many masks in the display were given as advertising premiums by various businesses, so even children could play Santa Claus. In larger stores, Santa himself handed out the masks. This jolly elf came from Mellingers, a California grocery store, estimated to be late 20th century.
The Book of Magic was a special children's section in the December 25, 1921 edition of the Boston Sunday Advertiser.
It had a two-page spread with an oversized, full color Santa Claus mask. The user would cut it out and mount card board or fabric.
If you have some of these more recent boxes in your stash, consider yourself lucky!
This exhibit not only looked at the older, more traditional masks, but those from contemporary technology as well.
The advent of plastic offered cheap masks, not designed to last more than a season, the one below is late 1960s-70s (Hong Kong).
We started this post talking about Krampus. If you think he's only a character of German and Austrian holiday lore, think again!
The Grinch clearly has Krampus origins and he remains a holiday favorite today.
To see related posts on other MSU Museum holiday exhibits from years past, check out THIS POST (Santa adverting), THIS POST (Holiday Crackers) or THIS ONE (Christmas tea tins).
(My thanks to the MSU Museum, on the campus of Michigan State University. Val Berryman has curated a new exhibit and I hope to get over there in the next week or so, so that I can share it with you! And all the info in this post is from that posted by Val at the site. Thanks!)