The Legend of Krampus

Posted by US Ghost Adventures Contributor in US Ghost Adventures
The Legend of Krampus - Photo

A half goat, half demon stalks the nights leading up to Christmas, searching for and punishing misbehaving children. The legend of Krampus originated in Austria and tells the tale of the devilish counterpart of St. Nicholas. Krampus’ name is derived from the German word ‘krampen,’ which translates to ‘claw’ — if that’s not enough reason to be on your best behavior this year, you may want to keep reading! Join a ghost tour near you and celebrate the holidays with US Ghost Adventures!

The Tale of Krampus

Every year at the end of December, children everywhere prepare themselves for the arrival of Old St. Nick. They expect their Yule trees to shelter shiny new gifts, toys, and rewards for their great behavior throughout the year. But what happens to the kids who haven’t been ‘nice?’

While most will tell you that Santa Claus will just leave huge lumps of coal in their stockings, children across Europe had a much more frightening threat looming — Krampus.

He is said to visit during the evenings surrounding Christmas Day and chase naughty children with birch sticks, scaring them, smacking them, and stuffing them into his tattered cotton sack, dragging them back to hell with him.

European versions of St. Nick have long had creepy counterparts like Knecht Ruprecht and Belsnickle, who dealt out harsh punishments. Krampus is just one of these characters, originating in Austria’s alpine region, where he’s been scaring the socks off of children for centuries.

Krampus originated through the Pagan celebration of the winter solstice, and later, he became melded into Christian traditions in which Santa Claus would visit children in December. Around the same time, Krampus would tag along, visiting the ‘bad’ children. In alpine Austria and some parts of Germany, this day was known as ‘Krampusnacht,’ or ‘Krampus Night,’ when adults may dress up as Krampus to scare the children in their homes.

Kids have also witnessed this devilish fiend parading the streets during a ‘Krampuslauf,’ which is a type of Krampus marathon — like a super spooky demon-filled 5k!

Krampuslauf was meant to be a way for village-grown men to blow off steam while scaring the town’s kids. Austrian men would dress in fur suits and wooden masks and carry cow bells, running through the streets dressed as the fearsome Krampus, a tradition originally meant to disperse winter’s malevolent ghosts.

Although he is depicted alongside Santa Claus, Krampus’ roots have nothing to do with Christmas. Instead, Krampus dates back to pre-Germanic Paganism. Tradition says that Krampus 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 stunning resemblance to the Devil. More eradication attempts followed in 1934 at the hands of Austria’s conservative Christian Social Party.

None of them worked — and Krampus emerged even stronger as a much-feared and beloved holiday force!

While Krampuslauf continues into the present day, the introduction of mass visual media swept the charismatically frightening Krampus up into the postcard industry. In the 1890s, Germany and Austria experienced ‘Krampuskarten,’ holiday cards adorned with the spooky sidekick.

These holiday greetings cards weren’t meant to make you feel fuzzy inside, and ones marked ‘Gross mom Krampus, or greetings from Krampus, showed Krampus stuffing distressed children into his satchel and preparing to hit them with bundles of birch sticks. Many of these postcards depicted the horrors of a meeting with Krampus, with children in chains and stuffed into Krampus’ bag, headed off to the underworld.

Depictions of the Demon

Krampus is shown in many different ways, but they all seem to be fairly similar. These depictions began with the postcards that hailed from Austria, designed to share the legend. Krampus is three times the size of a full-grown man, with a mangled and deranged face adorned with bulging, bloodshot eyes, and a body covered with long, matted hair. Krampus has long, sharp teeth, which are on display as he chases children through the streets, grinning. Krampus is also usually shown with long horns protruding from his skull. Strangely enough, Krampus is usually shown with one cloven hoof and one human foot covered in hair — but no one is sure why.

“The Krampus is the yin to St. Nick’s yang,” tells Smithsonian.com. “You have the saint, you have the Devil. It taps into a subconscious macabre desire that a lot of people have that is the opposite of the saccharine Christmas a lot of us grew up with.”

photo shows an illustration of santa claus and krampus side by side

St. Nick and Krampus. Source: freesvg

Balance, right?

A Few Creepy Krampus Facts

December 5th is Krampus’ Day

if you survive his siege, you might live till December 6th, when St. Nicholas arrives to bring treats and gifts.

Krampus may be a full-blown monster, but Santa is his pal

the two are linked in a strange Christmas yin-yang, parading around villages at night.

Krampus parade goers hit, push, and whip spectators, just like Krampus does

here’s a description of the Salzburg Krampuslauf from a tourist who expected a silly parade but came home with red welts:

‘The narrow streets in the Old City section of Salzburg were packed with pedestrians as the Krampusse stomped through. Many people were caught unaware and reacted with terror. Some would flee and try to seek refuge in a shop or restaurant, only to be pursued by a determined Krampus. With so many easy targets, we again managed to escape largely unharmed. At times we were chased, jostled and struck, but compared with the brutality we witnessed, it was obvious we had been spared the full brunt of what Krampus could muster.”

Krampus of Today

Austria isn’t blind to the fact that those living in the area may not be familiar with the traditions of Krampus. For some, the annual festival of child-hunting Krampus is fun—but concerns that refugees in the Alpine towns that celebrate Krampus could find the tradition frightful has prompted some towns to consider taming the horror.

This year, Krampus’ scheduled arrival in the Alpine towns that celebrate him coincides with an influx of refugees from Syria and Afghanistan. Though the festival is historically well-loved, it gave rise to concerns that the new neighbors might be scared of the tradition and its nightmare-fueling costumes. Rather than canceling the parade, town officials decided to educate the newcomers, giving a presentation where the props, costumes, and customs of Krampus were discussed.

Krampus has even shown up in the mainstream media, with a 2015 movie named ‘Krampus.’ The movie tells the story of a child who had a less-than-enjoyable Christmas accidentally summoning the festive demon into his family home. As he unleashes the wrath of Krampus, the previously feuding family must band together to save their neighborhood from Krampus.

photo shows a man dressed as cramps

A man dressed as the devilish ghoul at a Krampus festival. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The holidays can be frightening enough without the addition of a devilish beast with a penchant for assault, but Krampus is well-loved and terror doesn’t have to be put on the shelf just because we’ve entered the season of joy, love, and togetherness. Merry Krampusnacht, and long live Krampus!

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Sources Cited:

Featured Image Source

https://www.history.com/news/krampus-christmas-legend-origin

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Krampus

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/krampus-could-come-you-holiday-season-180957438/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krampus_(film)

https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/71999/9-facts-about-krampus-st-nicks-demonic-companion