HISTORY OF KRAMPUS
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 to kindly 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.
High up in the Alp countries of Europe is where Krampus was born, or, more accurately, where the legend was created. The word “Krampus” is derived from the Old High German word krampen, meaning “claw.” According to Norse mythology, Krampus is the son of Hel, the goddess ruler of the underworld. There are also a few physical similarities between Krampus and Greek mythical creatures like the horns and hoofs of satyrs and fauns.
Santa Claus has long been the symbol of Christmas, bringing joy and presents to all the good girls and boys. But if you are child in Germany, Austria, and other parts of the Alps region, there may be something much more dark, mischievous, and grumpy hidden in the shadows next to dear old St. Nick. That something is Krampus, the Christmas demon.
A beast-like creature with fangs, fur, and horns, Krampus announces his presence with loud bells and terrorizes the kids who have been naughty during the year. While Santa gives the good ones gifts and joy, Krampus gives the bad ones beatings with a whip (made from birch sticks and horsehair) and nightmares. As for the really, really naughty kids, Krampus drops them in a sack (or a wicker basket on his back) and whisks them away to his lair which is of course the underworld never to be seen again.
Over the years different political regimes lobbying for the fate of Austria and territories round about often accused Krampus of being the symbol of the devil, in cahoots with opposing forces.
Like it or not, the modern image Krampus has been hijacked from all good intentions he may have enjoyed in folklore. He is cemented now in several cultures as a monster alone with no good to be imposed on anyone by his presence.
He is the personification of fear and the ultimate Christmas nightmare.