It seems like every time I turn around, Christmas is right around the corner again. While everyone is getting holly and jolly, Christmas time, for me at least, usually means the end of the Haunt season. Boo.
But, there ARE some ways that Christmas intersects with the horrifying holiday in October. Because you better watch out, you better not cry! Better not pout, I’m telling you why… Krampus is coming to town!
That’s right, folks. I can totally combine my encyclopedic Crypto Country knowledge with Christmas, because Krampus is a cryptid for the holiday season!
Look how much fun they’re having!
So, what is Krampus? The word itself has Germanic roots, coming from “Krampen”, the German word for “Claw” or “Giddy Child Murderer” (OK, I made that last one up, but it totally fits).
He’s described as a beast-like creature, usually seen as a classic devil with horns, cloven hooves, and monstrous tongue (we’re talking longer than Gene Simmons’). Sometimes, he is shown as a sinister gentleman dressed in black, or even as a hairy man-beast. He also carries a wicker basket on his back, filled with thorny, birch sticks. In any form, though, he doesn’t actually invoke the spirit of holiday cheer.
Kind of like a weird buddy-copy film, Krampus rides shotgun with Santa. While jolly old Saint Nicholas rewards well-behaved children with gifts, Krampus is known to torture the naughty ones with rusty chains and those birch sticks I mentioned earlier (amongst other various tortures), before dragging them to Hell. HAPPY HOLIDAYS, KIDS!
When Krampus comes to town, it is celebrated on Krampusnacht, December 5th (or 6th), the eve of St. Nicholas’ Day. In modern day, many folks dress up as the creature (amongst other things) to participate in Krampuslauf (better known to us as the Krampus Run). This takes place in Austria, Italy, and many other parts of Europe. Of course, it’s a party-like atmosphere, where drunken people take to the streets to terrify children (and adults) in their get-up.
That is one brave baby.
It’s even spread here, having been celebrated in American cities as well. In fact, at this year’s Universal Hollywood Horror Nights, in their Dark Christmas area, they had Krampus roaming around, scaring folks.
This tradition dates back thousands of years, when Europeans practiced mummery during the winter solstice. Villagers would dress up as various mythic figures to perform humorous plays. This practice is also what Halloween dates back to, oddly enough. But, some of the most common figures in these plays were Old Man Winter and the Goat-Man…or, Saint Nick and the Devil, respectively. And of course, that devil is none other than Krampus.
Krampus is actually older than the story of Jesus, born of a pre-Christian, Alpine Pagan tradition. By the 17th century, Christians incorporated Krampus into their winter celebrations by pairing him with St. Nicholas.
Europeans have been exchanging greeting cards with Krampus since the 1800s. The cards usually have a humorous tone to them, and feature the phrase “Gruß vom Krampus” (Greetings from the Krampus). Over time, the representation of Krampus ion the cards has changed. While older versions have a much more terrifying Krampus, modern versions have a cuter creature. Personally, I prefer the scary one.
Krampus take the wheel!
In the early 20th century, Austrian governments discouraged the practice of celebrating Krampusnacht. That’s right folks: the Nazis hated Krampus. They thought he was the work of wicked Social Democrats. In fact, in 1934, the Krampus tradition was prohibited completely by the government, and backed up by the Christian Social Party. They even handed out fliers in the 1950s talking about how Krampus is an evil man. However, closer to the end of the century, the celebrations resumed, and continue today.
Of course, there is plenty of discussion still as to whether or not Krampus is appropriate for kids. And to that, I say WHO CARES?! Kids today aren’t afraid of getting coal in their stocking…they are too busy staring at their phones, playing their Minecraft, and listening to Nicki Minaj. They can probably see worse things on prime time television, so bring on the Krampus!
So remember, while you’re celebrating Christmas with your loved ones on December 25th, cozy up around the fire, sip some hot cocoa, and tell them to tale of Krampus. Because nothings says holiday spirit like him!