Chains, devil horns, and pitchforks are not things most people associate with the holidays.
But for many in the Alpine region of Europe, that's precisely where Krampus – a half goat, half demon creature, carrying rusty chains and sticks – belongs: in the Christmas season.
Think of him as the anti-Santa. Krampus – as he is called in his native Austria, though he goes by other names throughout Europe – is St. Nicholas’s helper and his task is to scare small children into being good.
This folklore tradition, which originates from a well-known tale about St. Nicholas’ battle with the devil, has been exported to the United States where Krampus is gathering a cult-like following and has even made an appearance on the Colbert Report.
Sympathy for the devil?
Some teachers in Austria have said Krampus should not visit schools because he is too scary. And in Hungary, where Krampus is a somewhat lighter version of his Austrian counterpart, teaching assistant Klári Tölgyesi says St. Mikulás – as he is called in Hungarian – and his devilish sidekick visit her school every year but the students only receive presents from the duo.“We have just really, really good children in our school,” she says with a laugh.
Krampus is a beast-like creature from the folklore of Alpine countries thought to punish children during the Yule season who had misbehaved, in contrast with Saint Nicholas, who rewards well-behaved ones with gifts. Krampus is said to capture particularly naughty children in his sack and carry them away to his lair.
Krampus is represented as a beast-like creature, generally demonic in appearance.
The creature has roots in Germanic folklore; however, its influence has spread far beyond German borders. Traditionally young men dress up as the Krampus in Austria, southern Bavaria, South Tyrol, northern Friuli, Hungary, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic and Croatia during the first week of December, particularly on the evening of 5 December (the eve of Saint Nicholas day on many church calendars), and roam the streets frightening children with rusty chains and bells. Krampus is featured on holiday greeting cards called Krampuskarten. There are many names for Krampus, as well as many regional variations in portrayal and celebration.
The history of the Krampus figure stretches back to pre-Christian Germanic traditions. He is sometimes said to be the son of Hel, from Norse mythology. He also shares characteristics, including goat-like ears, legs, feet, with the satyrs and fauns of Greek mythology. The early Catholic Church discouraged celebrations based around the wild goat-like creatures, and during the Inquisition efforts were made to stamp them out.
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