Americans are taking notice of an interesting European tradition centered around a demonic beast called the Krampus, which appears around Christmastime to aid Saint Nicholas in dealing with naughty children, particularly in Austria. Here's what you need to know.
1. It Is a Pre-Christian Germanic Tradition
Krampus dates back to the pagan era, and is sometimes said to be the son of the Norse God of the Dead, Hel. He takes on traditional demonic characteristics, like goat ears, legs, and feet—similar to the satyrs and fauns of Greek mythology.
2. The Catholic Church Tried to Stamp Out the Krampus
During the Catholic Church’s attempt to squash paganism, they associated goat-like creatures with Satan. Krampus fell into this category and, during the Inquisition especially, efforts were made to completely rid the world of Krampus. But the Krampus persisted and was paired with Saint Nick for wintertime celebrations. Saint Nick brings gifts for all the children, while the demonic Krampus bring coal…while sometimes carrying the especially bad ones off to hell.
3. The Krampus Re-Emerged in Modern Times
Krampus was meant as a tradition for children, and the 20th century Austrian government tried to get rid of it altogether, citing that it wasn’t appropriate for children. The Nazis only strengthened this when they took over Austria and other Alpine nations that celebrated the Krampus, outlawing the demonic monster during their reign. After the Nazis fell and later into the 1950s, the Krampus began to reemerge.
4. The Krampus Comes at Krampusnacht
Krampusnacht precedes the night of the Feast of Saint Nicholas, which in much of Europe is December 6th. During this time, the Krampus appears on the streets—sometimes accompanying Saint Nick, sometimes not.
5. Krampuslaufen: The Real Krampus Party
In Europe, a Krampuslaufen is a celebration where a bunch of people dress up as the demon monster and usually get very drunk. This doesn’t usually happen on Krampusnacht, but sometime between the Winter Solstice and January 6.