Hang your stockings and say a prayer, Krampus is coming.
On the night of December 5, many good little children will go to sleep eager to wake up in the morning to see what sweets and goodies St. Nicholas has stuffed in their stockings. But jolly old St. Nick has a horrifying lesser-known counterpart who takes nefarious children and beats them with birch sticks and rusty chains before dragging them off to his lair in hell. The half-demon, half-goat is Krampus, and he knows when you’ve been naughty or nice.
The name Krampus is quite befitting for the Christmas demon. It comes from the German word krampen, meaning claw. The disturbing folklore is thought to date back all the way to pagan traditions of the Alpine countries. According to Norse mythology, Krampus is the son of Hel, a goddess who is so fierce, the underworld is named after her. But Norse mythology isn’t the only one to celebrate the beast.
By the 17th century, it’s known for certain that German Christians incorporated Krampus into their winter celebrations and gave St. Nick a travel partner. Their contrast made them a perfect pair. One rewarded children for being nice, while the other punished children for being mean. Between the two of them, there was a strong incentive to behave.
The disturbing legend was suppressed during the majority of the 20th century. Shocking. Wait, I take that back, I’m impressed that an outcry didn’t come sooner! The Catholic Church backed out on their St. Nick companion and banned the demonic celebrations. Funnily enough, European fascists in World War II hated Krampus and blamed the beastly creation on the Social Democrats. Kind of ironic if you think about it.
Krampus strikes the perfect balance between unsettling and spellbinding which may be why it’s making a comeback. In Germany, Austria, and some Eastern European countries, men dressed as Krampus will take over the streets for a Krampuslauf where the Krampus impersonators will chase people down the street. During the run, it is customary to offer the devils a Krampus schnapps. Why this isn’t a custom in the United States is beyond me.
The legend begs the question, why is their such a nightmarish character during Christmas time? Maybe it’s because Christmas isn’t always all joy and cheer. Charles Dickens portrayed this notion very well. Also, there is a fascinating aspect to the mysterious beast that is enticing to many people simply because it is taboo. Whatever the reason, the Christmas devil is crossing oceans and attracting attention and celebrations among many other countries.
Who knows, Krampus may be giving Santa a run for his money.
Basu, Tanya. “Who Is Krampus? Explaining the Horrific Christmas Devil.” National Geographic. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/12/131217-krampus-christmas-santa-devil/
Nuwer, Rachel. “In Germany, Santa’s Sidekick Is a Cloven-Hooved, Child Whipping Demon.” Smithsonian.com. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/in-germany-santas-sidekick-is-a-cloven-hooved-child-whipping-demon-180948178/