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What is Krampus?
Krampus is a horned half-goat, a half-demon creature who punishes unruly children during the Christmas season, according to folklore. He is claimed to assist St. Nicholas (Santa Claus) when he visits children on the night of December 5th, and Saint Nicholas rewards the well-behaved children with little presents like as oranges, dried fruit, walnuts, and chocolate, while Krampus takes joy in punishing the misbehaving children with birch rods.
There is a man who spreads joy amongst children once a year.
They lay awake and eager anticipation of his arrival,
What presence does he bring with him on this evening?
The cookies have been baked and the milk has been poured,
But as the shadowy figure approaches their excitement and joy turn into fear and despair, for this man is not Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus or even Father Christmas,
this man is no man at all.
This is Krampus the shadow of Christmas,
and tonight, there will be no presence received.
The half-goat half-demon figure has often been described as the anti-Saint Nicholas, but in some countries, it is believed that Krampus accompanies Saint Nicholas during Christmas, punishing those children who have misbehaved, in contrast to Saint Nicholas who rewards the well-behaved children.
The Depiction of Krampus
Krampus has been feared and celebrated in folklore for hundreds of years, and his appearance is that of nightmares, with large barren horns, dark hair, sharp fangs, and a long-pointed tongue.
He carries around chains that are thought to be symbolic of the Christian church binding the devil. As well as these chains, Krampus carries a bundle of birch sticks used to swat misbehaving children.
Saint Nicholas would reward the well-behaved children with gifts and presents, and he would leave the misbehaving children with a lump of coal. This would signal to Krampus which children were to be whipped and beaten. On occasion, Krampus would throw misbehaving children into his sack or basket and take them down to his lair in the underworld.
The depictions and stories of Krampus do distinctly vary, and there is no definitive version considered to be correct. In some illustrations, he is more Monster than man and in others, he appears as half-man half-demon.
The Origin and History of Krampus
Unlike Saint Nicholas, the origins of Krampus appear to be a little bit more unclear. The earliest tales of Krampus do appear to have originated from the Austrian Alps in Germany, perhaps, even predate in Christianity.
The word Krampus is derived from the German Krampen meaning “claw”, and we do see Krampus share characteristics of other demonic creatures from other cultures, such as Fauns and Satyrs in Greek mythology.
In Norse mythology, Krampus is believed to be the son of Hel, the daughter of Loki and keeper of the underworld.
The legend of Krampus is part of a century-old tradition in Germany. December 5th was known as Krampus night, but children would be especially wary not to attract the attention of the Beast, hoping that come December 6th, Nicholas would have left them presents.
Children would leave out their shoes for Saint Nicholas, who would fill them with gifts if they had been good. He would place a lump of coal in the shoes of those who have misbehaved, and they would be later dealt with by Krampus.
The Festival or Worship of Krampus
Krampuslauf or “Krampus run” is an annual festival still celebrated to this day in Austria and throughout the Alpine region. The tradition itself is thought to be over 500 years old and individuals would often dress up as the demon of Christmas himself—wearing heavy coats of fur made from the hide of sheep and goats—so they disguise in horns masks and terrifying masks in the image of Krampus.
They roam the towns and cities with torches and birch whips, and they are usually accompanied by a St. Nicholas who leads the group throughout the town where they can be seen slapping people in the back of their legs with their whips and switches.
They will scare the local children and sometimes even adults, throwing them into the snow all in the name of fun. Some will even go door-to-door, visiting people in their houses and giving them treats and other goodies, somewhat of a reversal to the trick-or-treat tradition.
In some parts of Austria, before Christian influence, December was the month of monsters and ghouls.
At first glance, Krampus seems to play the role of the Christmas villain, but he represents far more than just an evil entity. Krampus is seen to be the counterpart to Saint Nicholas, with good comes bad, with light comes a dark; Krampus was often referred to as the shadow of Saint Nicholas.
There are those who still see Krampus as a symbol of the devil, but in the modern-day, despite still being feared, Krampus has become somewhat of a symbol of celebration in many cultures.
Some do not see Krampus as a force of true evil, as to them, Krampus symbolizes the need for our moral compass to be balanced. There must be rewards and consequences for the actions we take. If receiving no presents from Santa Claus is not enough to dissuade the bad behaviour of children, then surely a visit from Krampus will.
Art Sources: Nonparanoid, Yanmo Zhang.