The Christmas season is filled with joy, magic, and childhood delight; however, what about the darker side of Christmas? Many have heard of the legend of Krampus. He is the counterpart to the jolly Saint Nicolas that we have all come to love and know as Santa. Like most stories designed to terrify small children, the legend of Krampus has its origins in Europe, mainly in Germany, Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. The brothers Grimm’s original fairy tales were far more gruesome than anything written for children today, with children losing limbs and even dying as the conclusion to their tales. The legend of Krampus is in the same vein of bizarre, morbid, and terrifying. Older versions of Krampus depict him as a demon with fur, horns, cloven hooves, sharp fangs, and a long pointed tongue. He often was seen with a large bundle of birch branches known as a ruhen that he would use to beat the children that had been bad during the year while Santa rewarded the good children. He is also commonly seen with chains that he rattles around to signify his approach. There are even images of Krampus with an old basin or sack he carried around in order to haul bad children off to Hell where he would eat them. Pretty intense for Christmas time!
Krampus is thought to originally have his roots in pagan tradition and be at least loosely based on a pagan spirit. He is also thought to be an interpretation of the Norse god, Hel, the god of the Underworld.
As early as the 1800s, Christmas cards depicting Krampus were often sent out during the holiday season with the salutation: “gruss von Krampus” or “greetings from Krampus” in German. Many Alpine towns have celebrated Krampus during Krampusnacht or Krampus Night, which is a celebration early in December that preceded the Feast of Saint Nicolas. Today still, there are many festivals to celebrate Krampus with people dressed as the hooved Demon and chasing people through the streets in good “fun”. At various points in history, the legend of Krampus has been suppressed. The Catholic Church outlawed portrayals and celebrations of the demonic beast at one point. During WWII, the Fascist party in Europe inhibited the legend of Krampus, claiming it was a fabrication of socialist Democrats.
The United States has more recently become familiar with Krampus and his infamy. The current bah humbug, “Festivus” trend in pop culture, complete with ugly Christmas sweaters and anti-Christmas parties has led to a resurgence in Krampus’ popularity. While Krampus festivities have not reached European-level proportions, America is slowly embracing this wicked side of Christmas. There is even a Christmas horror movie that was released earlier this month titled Krampus, only further solidifying his presence as a Christmas figure.
During the Christmas season, please remember to be nice rather than naughty in order to avoid a visit from Santa’s old world German companion!