The Ancient Legend of Krampus

Some children may still respond well to the fact that “Santa Claus is watching them” which is a great way to get little ones to behave at least until Christmas comes and goes. But with more and more kids learning the truth about who really puts the presents under the tree (spoiler alert?), the magic of Santa Claus and his merry reindeer seems to fade away more each passing season.

Perhaps it is time to bring back an ancient German tale of a mythical creature that is a lot like Santa in some ways, and completely different in others. I’m talking about Krampus, the beast with Germanic roots which is St. Nicholas’s other half and scares children into being nice instead of naughty.

Well, that doesn’t seem too bad you say, I mean it’s practically what the idea of Santa does anyway, what is he some sort of Beauty and the Beast type of Bea….

Oh okay. Yes, that should do the trick.

Krampus is a half-goat, half-demon horrific beast who literally beats people into being nice and not naughty. He isn’t exactly the stuff that makes the Christmas holiday’s all merry and bright and you won’t see any “Meet Krampus” photo ops at your local mall. (However there is still a Krampus parade that is held in certain parts of the world still where people dress up as the horrid creature and wield sticks at the crowd. Sounds like a great event for the entire family!)

So, What is Krampus?

Krampus bears horns, dark hair, and fangs. The anti-Santa comes with a chain and bells that he lashes about, along with a bundle of birch sticks that are meant to be swatted at naughty children. He then hauls the bad kids down to the underworld.

The Origins of Krampus

Krampus, whose name is derived from the German word “Krampen” meaning “claw” is said to be the son of Hel in Norse mythology. The legendary beast also shares characteristics with other scary, demonic creatures in Greek mythology such as satyrs and fauns.

The legend is part of a centuries-old Christmas tradition in Germany where Christmas celebrations begin in early December. Krampus was created as a counterpart of St. Nicholas, who rewarded children with sweets. Krampus, in contrast, would swat “wicked” children and take them away to his lair.

According to folklore, Krampus purportedly shows up in towns the night before December 6, known as Krampusnacht, or Krampus Night. December 6 also happens to be Nikolaustag, or St. Nicholas Day, when German children look outside their door to see if the shoe or boot they’d left out the night before contains either presents (a reward for good behavior) or a rod (bad behavior).

A more modern take on the tradition in Austria, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic involves drunken men dressed as devils, who take over the streets for a Krampuslauf—a Krampus Run of sorts, when people are chased through the streets by the “devils.”

Why scare children with a demonic, pagan monster? Maybe it’s a way for humans to get in touch with their animalistic side.

Such impulses may be about assuming “a dual personality,” according to António Carneiro, who spoke to National Geographic magazine earlier this year about revitalized pagan traditions. The person dressed as the beast “becomes mysterious,” he said.

Why Did Krampus Go Away?

It may be obvious why the legend of this horrific creature has died down, but with everyone in love with all things horror and sci-fi these days, it seems that Krampus should be as popular as Santa himself.

The frightening presence of Krampus has been surpressed for many years as the Catholic Church forbade the faucous celebrations and fascists in WWII Europe found Krampus to be despicable because it was the creation of Social Democrats.

But today Krampus is making a comeback thanks to the Scrooge-ish nature in pop culture these days. There was also a horror film that was released last year to less-than-nice reviews about the horned Christmas creature.

In the U.S., people are buying into the trend with Krampus parties. Monday night’s episode of American Dad, called “Minstrel Krampus,” highlighted the growing movement of anti-Christmas celebrations. Which is quite the opposite of what Krampus actually is, since he’s not anti-Christmas, just anti-naughty kids.

For its part, Austria is attempting to commercialize the harsh persona of Krampus by selling chocolates, figurines, and collectible horns. So there are already complaints that Krampus is becoming too commercialized.