The Legendary Creature Known As Krampus
In December, naughty children in Central Europe — Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic — face more severe consequences than coal in their stockings. That’s because St. Nicholas (Santa Klaus in the United States) brings along a far less jolly companion when visiting their homes.
According to the regional legend, Krampus, a menacing half-man and half-goat creature, makes his rounds the night of December 5th. While St. Nicholas leaves sweet treats in the shoes of kids who’ve behaved throughout the year and twigs in the shoes of those who haven’t, Krampus takes a more hands-on approach in doling out behavioral consequences. Children with a track record of misbehaving are beaten with birch branches or absconded into the night.
The name Krampus comes from the German word “krampen,” meaning “claw.” The legendary creature predates St. Nicholas and is rooted in pre-Germanic pagan traditions. People in the area believed Krampus to be the son of Hel, the Norse God of the Underworld.
Although Christian organizations have attempted to stamp out Krampus as far back as the 12th century and as recently as the 1930s, the groups were unsuccessful in eliminating the legend of from the local culture.
To celebrate the coming of Krampus, many countries host Krampuslauf. The tradition involves young men dressing up as the creature. They wear fur suits and wooden carved masks while parading through town wearing cowbells. This event is an ancient pagan tradition meant to ward off winter ghosts.
People also exchange Krampuskarten, holiday cards that show Krampus partaking in his various nefarious acts.
After more than a century, the cards made their way to the U.S. in 2004 when graphic designer Monte Beauchamp published “The Devil in Design” book of Krampus cards. The 2015 American film “Krampus” depicting the frightening being also helped to popularize the legendary creature in the U.S.