Beware of Krampus
By Thomas D’Agostino
This is the time of year everyone begins to think about spending the holidays with family and friends. Shopping, decorating, holiday parties, gatherings and a visit from that magical icon, Santa Claus. Little do people think about the possible visit from Santa’s exact opposite, the creature that makes children shiver at the very thought of. Those who live in our western world may not be so familiar with him, but to the children of the Alpine region around Europe, he is a very real and evil spirit. His name; Krampus.
Krampus is a horned demon from Alpine folklore who, along with Santa visit the children in the night. The well behaved are rewarded with gifts from Old Saint Nick while the bad ones are punished by Krampus with a good swatting from the birch rods he carries with him. The origin of Krampus is not readily known, but there are recollections written of his being around since the 16th century, maybe hundreds of years before that.
Krampus appears in many variations, according to the artist’s conception, but is generally accepted to be brown or black haired with cloven hooves, horns like a goat, and a long forked tongue. Basically a monster that is half man and half beast. He is sometimes depicted carrying a large sack which is used for putting the bad children in and taking them away. Some claim he eats them, drowns them or transports them straight to hell. Krampus is also adorned with various sized odd looking bells and carries chains which he thrashes about. He also has on hand, a wealthy supply of birch branches which he uses to beat the badly behaved children before carting them away. Woe to the child who should talk back to their parents or disregard their rule, for like Santa, Krampus knows all.
During pre-Christain festivals, young men dressed as the horned demon and ran amok, scaring children in the villages and towns. The name is thought to have derived from the Bavarian word “krampn” which means dead or rotten, or from the German kramp/krampen which means claw. Either or both can be used to describe the hideous creature that stalks the children on a certain night in December, searching for those who misbehaved during the year. December 5 is known as Krampusnacht or Krampus Night where either St. Nick rewards the good little children or Krampus doles out his form of punishment to those who have been bad all year.
At one time, any celebrations regarding the existence of Krampus were banned in certain countries, like Austria in the 1930s, for fear it would mentally damage the children by threatening them with such a horrible fate. This idea was later rescinded and today, the legend of Krampus lives in parades and even greeting cards called Krampuskarten. Wooden masks are also made and adorned during the holiday season to pay tribute to the antithesis of St. Nick.
Krampus was very little known or recognized in the western world, but very well known in the Bavarian and Alpine regions of Europe until recently. Somehow, he made his way into our society and has been a growing force since. Krampus has been gaining so much popularity in recent years, one can find a vast number of Christmas ornaments, greeting cards and movies about him. So much so, that even Santa may have a bit of competition on his hands. That is, of course, unless the chi