“Krampus is essentially an Austrian antithesis to Santa. Whereas Santa visits the good kids and gives them gifts, Krampus is said to visit the bad ones and give them coal or take them away. What’s really interesting about this is that many Austrian parents will dress up as Krampus on Christmas, and then actually snatch up their own children or the children of neighbors at night to scare them into being good. It’s kind of terrifying from our perspective, but it’s apparently completely normal in Austria.”
This was collected from my friend here at USC, and although she isn’t Austrian herself, her best friend throughout her childhood was fully Austrian. She spent a lot of time with the girl’s Austrian family, especially around holidays, so she is actually pretty familiar with their customs. To her, Krampus isn’t exactly scary, and she kind of has a soft spot in her heart for him, just because it reminds her of her friend’s family. I kind of like the idea of Krampus, just because it’s something so different than what we are used to in America; I don’t think running around pretending to kidnap kids at night would ever fly in the U.S.
L is a 53-year-old homemaker living in Winnetka, IL. L grew up mainly in the northern suburbs of Illinois, but she also lived in Germany and England for a while when she was younger. L speaks English primarily but she is learning French. L attended both the University of Southern California and the University of Wisconsin Madison for her undergraduate college education. L considers herself to be American. She does not really identify with her Welsh ancestry.
L: Krampus is from centuries back in Germany.
Me: So who is Krampus?
L: Krampus was an evil elf who would watch children to make sure they were good and if they weren’t goo then they would punish them. It’s like the the line from Santa Claus is Coming to Town: “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.” Krampus is always watching.
Me: Did you ever tell your kids about Krampus?
L: No, we told them to look out the back window to see the deer and we told them that they were Santa’s reindeer, and that they better be good or Santa would know. They were so well behaved after that. We also used a garden gnome and told them it was an elf.
Me: Wow, that’s manipulative.
L: Well, folkore is a parent’s way to get their children to behave.
Me: Yeah, I can see that.
L: But my friend Kathy told her children about Krampus to make them behave as children. The kids are still obsessed with Krampus. The have Krampus dolls, they have paraphanalia all over the place.
L does not believe in Krampus, nor did she tell her kids about him. She knows the story because she heard it when she lived in Germany for a few years as a child as well as from her friend who did tell the story of Krampus to her children. Instead of Krampus, a scary figure, L used real things like deer and gnomes to convince her kids that reindeer and elves were watching them to make sure they behaved. This worked well because the kids saw the “elves” and “reindeer” with their own eyes and therefore had less doubt that they were real.
Here is a link to the imdb page for the movie that came out last year based on this tale: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3850590/
Informant: The Krampus, well the Krampus is a beast-like creature that looks like a devil but with horns and satyr like feet and a really long tongue. He is from the Alpine countries and is related to St. Nicholas day where he follows St. Nicholas around. He punishes naughty children by putting sticks in the shoes they leave out for St. Nicholas, or even worse he will kidnap naughty children, stuff them in his bag, and steal them away to hell, never to be seen again.
The informant is a middle aged mother of two older children. She is a first generation American who was born in Danbury, Connecticut. Her father was born in Oriente, Cuba and her mother was born in Mór, Hungary. The informant and her sisters were told of the Krampus from their mother when they were teenagers. Although the informant does not believe in the Krampus herself, the informant’s mother did. As a child, the informant’s mother would put her shoes out on the Eve of St. Nicholas’s Day, December 5th. On St. Nicholas’s Day, December 6th, is it said that the Krampus would accompany Santa Claus, also known as St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas would put candy and sweets in the shoes of the children who were well-behaved and the Krampus would put sticks and twigs in the shoes of the children who had been naughty. It was also thought that the Krampus would abduct really misbehaved children and take them away to hell.
The informant remembers the tales of the Krampus because she felt it was “funny and creepy at the same time.” The informant felt that Germanic, Hungarian parenting could be very punitive, and still kept “the old-fashioned belief that you can scare children into behaving.”
Although other entires have already discussed the Krampus, they label the Krampus as German folklore. I think it is important to stress that this is not entirely the case, the legend of the Krampus has spread to other countries around Germany like Hungary as the informant who described the Krampus to me is of Hungarian origin. In fact, the legend of the Krampus comes from the folklore of Alpine countries, not solely Germany.
According to the informant, in many countries like Austria, Southern Bavaria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, and the Czech Republic, young men dress up as the Krampus and roam the streets frightening children with rusty chains and bells. Also, the informant said that the Krampus is “featured on holiday cards called Krampuskarten.” (Below are some examples of Krampuskarten)
The Krampus also appears as the subject of a novels such as:
Brom, Gerald. Krampus: The Yule Lord. New York: Harper Voyager, 2012. Print.
And even makes an appearance in the Colbert Report:
“Sign Off – Goodnight With Krampus.” The Colbert Report. Comedy Central. Wednesday December 9, 2009. Television.
The following myth is that of the mythical creature, the Krampus.
“Ahhhh the Krampus is the demon servant of St Nicholas. He exists in some parts of Switzerland but mostly it’s in the Alps of Germany and Austria. Um, he really only exists today in kind of remote areas in the mountains of northern Germany and Austria. The Krampus is kind of what they base a lot of modern devil themes off of but he has antlers and hoofed feet and he’s all red and has a big long black tongue, and obviously there has always been a kind of sexual connotation with him and his tongue.
Originally he was with the St. Nicholas mythos and he is the demon servant of St. Nicholas. Where as St Nicholas gives gifts to good children on Christmas, the Krampus punishes the bad. The original thing of getting treats and candies and little trinkets in your socks from St Nicholas originally came with a bipolar one where the Krampus would stick sticks and twigs and rocks in your shoes. And there’s three levels to it. If you were bad, he would stick sticks and twigs and rocks in your shoes and then if you were really bad he would beat you on the ass with birch sticks. If you were really extra bad he would take you in his basket that’s on his back to hell for the day and that was your treat for Christmas, but you had to be a really naughty person to get that. So there’s three levels to Krampus. There’s bad, pretty bad, and then ultra bad.
The Krampus has an affection for loose women—especially whores, it’s particularly hookers, and actually loose women like the Krampus. The Krampus disappeared some time in the early 19th century—more late 18th century, because they thought it was cruel, and then he kind of made a renaissance in the late 19th century in post cards where he became a really popular—pretty much one of the most popular things in print on post cards in late Victorian Germany and Austria. Then he died down and surprisingly recently in popular culture has made a minor come back so uh, yeah that’s the Krampus. In German culture he has also recently made a come back slightly. Um, probably more because he’s just fun. For all us disenfranchised youth who don’t like Santa Claus… I mean, he’s a pretty cool guy. I dunno Lauryn, do you want to have sex with the krampus or do you want to have sex with Santa Claus? You have to answer that…”
My informant is of German decent and was told about the Krampus when he was a child by his father. The Krampus acts as a method of keeping children in line and making sure they behave. If children do not behave, not only with they not get presents on St. Nicholas day, the Krampus will punish them for their bad deeds. The severity of their punishment depends on how poorly they behaved. It can be seen as a much more severe version of the western myth of Santa Claus putting coal in the stocking of bad children in place of presents.
The Krampus has made appearances in popular culture over the years.
- The Venture Brothers: A Very Venture Christmas. 2004. In the Christmas episode of The Venture Brothers cartoon, Hank and Dean accidentally release the Krampus by reading a piece of scripture from a book of occult magic. As a result he appears at the Venture family Christmas party where he wreaks havoc and attacks Dr. Venture for his bad behavior. Upon his intrusion, Dr. Orpheus explains the Krampus to Dr. Venture.
- Dr Orpheus: “I’m afraid we are being visited upon by, the Krampus. The punitive spirit who once rode side by side with St. Nicholas each Christmas eve, delivering terrible punishment to wicked children as Claus bestowed his gifts upon the righteous.”
- Dr Venture: “That’s ridiculous! There’s no such thing as Santa Claus!”
- Dr. Orpheous: “Not since he was killed by a jet in 1963, no. Nor has there been a Krampus since The Pope cast him into purgatory during Vatican 2, but your boys seem to have inadvertently released him from his chains.”
- The Colbert Report: The Blitzkrieg on Grinchitude – Hallmark & Krampus. December 9th, 2009. In this segment of the Colbert Report, Colbert states that he is going to combat the attacks on Christmas by celebrating Christmas the old fashioned way, “…with figgie pudding, and wassailing, and kindly St. Nicholas, and his demon henchmen Krampus. For members of my audience who aren’t familiar with centuries old Austrian folk legends, Krampus is a demonic creature who accompanies St. Nicholas and torments naughty children with bitch branches and rusty chains. Like they say in Austria, every time a bell rings, a Krampus torments a child with rusty chains.” He goes on to describe the celebration of Krampusnacht, and suggest that Krampus must be brought to America to help fight the war on Christmas. “The next time someone tells you “seasons greetings” instead of “merry Christmas”, remind them that Krampus knows when they are naughty, when they are nice, and when they are showering alone.”
Krampusnacht (Krampus Night) occurs on December 5th in alpine countries in Europe (primarily Germany and Austria). It occurs on the night before St. Nicholas Day which is a festival in which children are given presents by St. Nicholas.
St. Nicholas (as well as the Dutch Sinterklaas) is where the British figure of Father Christmas and the American Santa Claus was derived from. On St. Nicholas day which in most countries falls on December 6th, he brings presents to all the good children. His demon counterpart, the Krampus acts as his servant and while St. Nicholas rewards the good children with treats, Krampus punishes the wicked.
Young men make Krampus costumes that mimic the imagery of the demonic figure. They wear these costumes on Krampusnacht and roam the streets making loud noises with bells and rusty chains and cause mischief around the city. In some towns there are processions and parades where those who have made Krampus costumes can walk down the street making loud noises and spooking spectators. According to the mythos, the Krampus is said to appear the night before St. Nicholas Day and so this celebration acts as a reenactment of this.
” Krampus night is celebrated on the 5th of December. And on the 5th of December people celebrate Krampus day by making home made fur suits, they look like monkey fur but they are actually made out of sheep wool, and then they make hand made carved masks and uhh, the hand carved mask portrays a demon. After they make these, on December 5th, they run around and cause havoc usually in large groups. It goes from hitting people with bitch sticks, to now they have large parades, but ya know usually they get a little rowdy and break stuff—but it’s not really about breaking stuff, it’s more about causing mischief, so it’s a day of mischief and romping around and all that sort of stuff. It only really—the celebration really only exists in rural towns in the mountains of Germany and Austria.”