International Santas: Krampus Is Checking His List Twice

Fire. Horns. Mayhem. Castigation for last year’s misdeeds inflicted by a skulking fiend at midnight. Such chaos doesn’t sound like part of a time-honored Christmas festivity, but it is when Krampus is on the prowl. This menacing devil, popular in the Alpine tradition, actually predates the merry, philanthropic Saint Nicholas, or Santa, with whom many of us around the globe are familiar. Like Santa, Krampus, whose name derives from the old German word for claw, delivers judgment around the holidays. Unlike Santa, however, he finds a particular pleasure in focusing his efforts on the wicked. In fact, in some lore, Krampus plays Saint Nick’s malevolent sidekick, a reeling and chain-shaking figure performing the dirty work of shoveling out punishments. You can think of him as the bad cop to Santa’s good cop.

Krampus

Illustration by Lucy Burrows

A stocking of coal would be a light sentence for wayward behavior in Krampus’s stomping grounds. Naughty children beware: being dragged down to hell is more in the style of his punishments. He’s also apt to stuff children into sacks and send them to a frigid, watery grave. So be good for goodness sake!

Sinister, cloven-hoofed characters like Krampus could be found in traditions all over Europe at one time and had their roots in pre-Christian customs. The mythology had been quelled somewhat by the church by the 1800s, but Krampus has been experiencing a rebirth in recent times. In the video below, people dress in formidable Krampus attire in Dorfplatz, Austria, on December 5 (Krampus Day) to get into the Christmas spirit . . . . It’s a very scary Christmas.

[Caution is advised for younger viewers.]

For more on Krampus, check out the following sources. Send Krampus or another international Santa to a friend using our Global Santa Sender on Facebook.

Sources

AGC. “Run, Kris Kringle, Krampus Is Coming!” Spiegel Online International, December 2, 2008. Accessed November 2011. http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,594050,00.html.

Bruce, Maurice. “The Krampus in Styria,” Folklore 69 (1958), 45–47.

Risen, Clay. “Santa’s Not-So-Little Helper,” Morning News, December 4, 2002. Accessed November 2011. http://www.themorningnews.org/article/santas-not-so-little-helper.

Zeller, Tom. “Have a Very Scary Christmas,” New York Times, December 24, 2000. Accessed November 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2000/12/24/weekinreview/ideas-trends-have-a-very-scary-christmas.html.

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Allison Harper

Allison is the manager of social media marketing at Rosetta Stone. She holds a B.A. from Harvard University. She lives in D.C. She retains her Texas "y'all."
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