You’ll likely be hearing of the Krampus over the next few weeks, as the holiday horror film Krampus, featuring St. Nick’s lesser known compatriot and starring Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation), releases on December 4th. But what or who is the Krampus? Well, he’s got cloven hooves for feet, a forked tongue, and often whips naughty children with branches before placing them in his sack to descend into the underworld.
Still scratching your head? Here’s a crash course in Krampusology.
The Krampus isn’t related to Loki, but he’s the Bad Cop to Santa’s Good Cop.
You may have read somewhere that the Krampus is the son of Hel, goddess of the underworld in Norse mythology and daughter of Loki. More likely, though, is that the modern Krampus owes his origin to the Yule Goat: a figure of pagan Norse traditions marking the Winter Solstice. Similar to the Krampus, the Yule Goat’s hideous appearance terrified children into properly honoring the traditions of Yuletide.
Eventually, Christianity came to Germany and Austria and their reverence for Old Man Winter, also a figure from Yuletide celebrations, was converted to Christmas celebrations via the Saint Nicholas, a real person sainted around 800. As the Christmas holiday grew in popularity in the 1300-1400’s, the Yule Goat became the Krampus: a malevolent, devil-like figure who whipped children who were naughty at Christmas and dragged them to Hell.
Krampus celebrations are like Halloween in Winter but all tricks, no treats.
Overseas, the Krampus gets his own holiday. In Austria, and other parts of Europe, Krampusnacht is celebrated on December 5: the eve of St. Nicholas’ Day (December 6). In anticipation of receiving presents from Saint Nick, children leave boots on their doorsteps that they hope their good deeds will cause the Krampus to ignore. If you’ve been naughty? The Krampus will not only fill that boot with a lump of coal, he’ll also whip you with a bundle of birch branches for your insolence.
But that’s not all. The holiday also brings with it Krampuslauf, where people get drunk, light torches and roam the streets dressed as the hairy, horned Krampus. It’s traditional to offer these miscreants the traditional Krampus drink of schnapps, which might be a good idea–especially if they’re wielding some particularly nasty looking branches. It’s like a more creative, if no less vomity, predecessor to the increasingly obnoxious SantaCon.
There’s no such thing as bad publicity for the Krampus
The Krampus has a good agent: he’s been showing up on rather horrifying greeting cards in Europe since the 1800s, and has since crossed over into television, comic books, and video games. Before the Krampus got his own movie, he showed up on tv shows like Grimm, The Venture Bros., and The League. In 2013, Image Comics released a limited series that centered on a secret council of Santa’s enlisting the help of the Krampus to save Christmas. On Steam you can catch him in Don’t Starve, but he shows up in older games like AdventureQuest Worlds and CarnEvil, too. His reign of terror shows no signs of slowing, so better break out the schnapps and get an early start on those positive resolutions for the new year, just to be safe.
What nice thing did you do this year that will keep Krampus from coming to town?
Comment below to enter to win this Krampus holiday sweater and ornament bell from our friends at Legendary!
(Enter by 11:59pm Pacific Standard Time Monday, December 14. We’ll pick a winner the following morning. Also, great news: This contest is open to anyone – not just residents of the USA and Canada.)
Featured image photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
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