While the holiday season in most parts of the Western world is a jolly, festive time, in parts of Austria and nearby Alpine countries Christmas is celebrated in altogether terrifying ways.
The Krampus is a demonic character from pagan traditions that is said to accompany Saint Nicholas as he makes his rounds the night of December 5th, also known as Krampusnacht.
St. Nicholas would quiz children on biblical trivia, but was unable to punish them for incorrect answers. That’s where the Krampus came in.
He was responsible for whipping and kidnapping bad children.
The Krampus can often be seen with a basket or sack strapped to his back, which he uses to cart children off to hell, according to legend.
Ironically, for how closely Krampus is associated with Christmas, the character has existed apart from the holiday for centuries.
In fact, the Catholic church attempted to get rid of the Krampus in the 12th century due to his satanic connotations. But he persevered, becoming a fixture of folklore in the region and binding himself to holiday traditions in the 17th century.
That is an old tradition. It comes from the old Alpine valleys. It is done to get rid of the bad winter-ghosts. On the other hand, it is also done to spread luck and fertility.
Krampus’ name derives from the German word krampen, meaning “claw.” Some historians have suggested that the character has roots in Norse mythology as son of Hel, the Goddess of the Underworld; though Krampus’ origins are firmly rooted in pre-Christian Alpine folklore.
These days, in early December, there are a number of Krampuslauf, or Krampus runs, in cities throughout Austria and Germany. They’ve even made their way into the United States.
In these scary street festivals, costumed characters dressed as Krampus, in addition to other perchten, or winter spirits, haunt the streets to the terror and amazement of onlookers.
Nowadays, those dressed as Krampus harass the adults, but take it easier on the children in the crowd.
I should hope so!
“We are living our traditions here. We are not bad people, we are banishing evil spirits, we are Perchten [winter spirits].”
Still, the Krampus remains a closely guarded part of Austrian culture; though he has managed to make his way into American pop culture with references in shows like The Office and the 2015 major motion picture Krampus.
What do you think: does the Krampus put you in the mood for Christmas?
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