Beware of Krampus
The evening before, “Krampusnacht”, the children are visited by the Krampus, St. Nicholas’s “bad cop” partner, a devil who rises from hell to torment bad children.
Origins of Krampus
Krampus, whose name is derived from the German word krampen, which means claw, is said to be the son of Hel, who rules the realm of the dead in Norse mythology. Krampus also shares characteristics with earthy creatures in Greek mythology: satyrs.
The legend is part of a centuries-old Christmas tradition in Austria and southern Germany, where Christmas celebrations begin in early December.
Krampus is a counterpart to kindly St. Nicholas, who rewards children with sweets. Krampus, in contrast, swats "wicked" children with birch sticks and takes them to his lair.
According to folklore, Krampus shows up the night before December 6, known as Krampusnacht, or Krampus Night. December 6 is 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 presents (a reward for good behavior) or a rod or twigs (for bad behavior).
For years, Krampus was suppressed by the Catholic Church, which forbade raucous celebrations in the demon's name. During World War II, Europe's fascists deplored Krampus as a creation of the Social Democrats.
Santa also tried to take over the dark companion’s job of punishing the naughty, but his New World temperament was apparently unsuited for the task. As Santa neglected and abandoned his punishing duties, American kids lost all fear of Santa and his lumps of coal. Thankfully, in the 21st century, Krampus has arrived in this land of spoiled and dissatisfied children to pick up the slack.
But the demon is making a comeback in his homeland. Austrian retailers are attempting to soften Krampus's persona by selling chocolates, figurines, and collectible horns. National Geographic has published a book in German about the Christmas beast.
In Austria, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic, many men celebrate Krampusnacht by getting drunk, dressing as devils, and taking over the streets in a kind of Krampus run, chasing pedestrians through the streets.
Mythology experts say that such antics present a way for humans to get in touch with their animalistic sides. (Read about European men reviving pagan traditions in National Geographic magazine.)
Jelavich theorizes that modern Krampus celebrations represent "Halloween for adults," as Krampus celebrations get tongue-in-cheek: "These days, Krampus is the fun character."
KRAMPUS THROUGH THE AGES
600 BCE In the book of Daniel in the Old Testament, King Nebuchadnezzar is punished by God for his pride when he is turned into a hairy beast.
4th Century CE Due to Roman influence, many Germanic tribes, such as the Goths and Vandals, convert to Christianity; their pagan traditions survive in small villages in the Alps where the Church cannot penetrate.
1250 CE King's Mirror, a Norwegian text, features a Wild Man character who is described as being covered in hair.
17th Century CE 'Knecht Rupert' appears as a figure in a Nuremberg Christmas procession.
1810 CE The Brothers Grimm began publishing stories of Germanic folktales, marking a resurgence in Germanic pagan folklore.
Early 19th Century CE Holiday postcards from Austria, Germany, and other parts of Europe feature holiday greetings Krampus and other companions of St. Nicholas.
Early 19th Century CE Germanic and Dutch immigrants to the US popularize 'Pelznickel' traditions in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and as far west as Indiana.
2004 CE Blab! Magazine curator Monte Beauchamp publishes Devil In Design, a collection of vintage Krampus postcards from the turn of the 19th century. This book marks an increase in Krampus' popularity in the English speaking world.
2004 CE An Adult Swim show The Venture Brothers features Krampus during a Christmas special.
2009 CE American satirist Stephen Colbert is visited by Krampus on his television show The Colbert Report.
2013 CE Krampus comes to the popular American television show Grimm.