Graphic by: Vincentia Thatcher
Graphic by: Vincentia Thatcher

Freaky Friday: Krampus

May 23, 2023

Ah, Christmas. The most magical time of the year. Presents are wrapped with care, cookies are left out for Santa Claus, and Krampus beats children with sticks…wait, what?!

Yes, even the jolly old Santa Claus has a dark version of himself (known as Krampus). But who exactly is Krampus? Is he some horrifying entity, or your average Joe? Let’s delve into his history together, shall we?

The Dawn of Christmas Time

The story of Krampus has been around for many centuries and is spread across many different cultures, so it’s only natural that he has a few different origin stories.

An interesting version of his story stems from Norse mythology, with Krampus being the son of Hel, the Norse goddess of the Underworld (many of you may know her as Hela from Thor: Ragnarok). As Christianity spread, people started to associate him with the Christmas holiday, despite the church wanting to ban him.

Most people seem to associate Krampus with good old Saint Nicholas. They claim that during the holiday season, St. Nick would visit kids and reward them with gifts for their good behavior. However, if a child was naughty, they would be visited by Krampus and either be beaten with sticks, eaten, or taken to Hell. This puts a whole new meaning to wanting your kids to be nice on Christmas, doesn’t it?

All About Krampus

Now that we know more about Krampus’s origins, let’s discuss the man himself. Krampus is most often depicted as a hairy goat demon. His body is covered with dark fur and he has goat hooves and horns. His wrists are chained, a symbol of his ties to Hell and the devil, and he carries a large satchel on his back and a bundle of sticks in his hand. Krampus follows Saint Nicholas from town to town punishing the naughty children while Saint Nick rewards the good. He chases the children, swatting at them with his bundle of sticks, and if he catches them, he stuffs them in his satchel and carries them off to Hell, presumably to eat them.

Greetings From Krampus

Krampus being a symbol of the holiday season can be traced back to the 6th century. Even before the arrival of Christianity in the Alpine regions, he is believed to have been a part of pagan rituals surrounding the winter solstice. There are also many traditions surrounding him that persist into the modern day. 

On December 5, or Krampusnacht (Krampus Night), Krampus and Saint Nicholas are said to visit towns in Austria – St. Nick with small gifts and treats, and Krampus with his bundle of sticks. On this evening, an adult might dress up as Krampus to scare children into behaving themselves. The kids awake the next morning on St. Nicholas Day to enjoy the treats they received the night before.

Another tradition involving people dressing up as Krampus is the Krampuslauf (Krampus Run).  During a Krampuslauf, the adult men in a town will consume large amounts of alcoholic beverages and run around in the streets dressed like Krampus. Unlike Krampusnacht, there is no set date for one of these events, but they typically happen sometime before Krampusnacht. It serves as a way to remind naughty kids that Krampus is coming and that they should clean up their act before he decides to punish them. 

Of course, you can’t have a popular Christmas character without having some Christmas cards with his face on them, and Krampus is no exception. Krampuskarten (Krampus cards) are, in the simplest of terms, Christmas cards with Krampus on them. Traditionally they were given to children to remind them to behave unless they want Krampus to beat them with sticks. These greeting cards often show Krampus chasing children with sticks and dragging them to hell. How festive! But these cards aren’t just for misbehaving kids, some of these have blatantly sexual overtones. Krampuskart art often depicts him seducing women, and in one example, a female Krampus is shown whipping men with the infamous bundle of sticks. 

Krampus in Popular Culture

Today, most people will likely recognize Krampus from the 2015 Christmas movie “Krampus”, but this is not the only piece of media he’s found in. He has been featured in books, comics, television, and video games, which are all important parts of today’s pop culture. He even made an appearance in the adult sitcom American Dad as Minstrel Krampus.

Once Upon A Krampus

Like many fictional figures throughout history, people and cultures have their own views and version of Krampus. It’s likely, however, that no matter what, he will be seen as a Christmas horror icon.

So, if it’s the holiday season and you have been naughty this year, you might want to spend your time being on your best behavior. You don’t want to risk what Krampus will do to you on Christmas Eve, do you?

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