The Christmas season is upon us. While most children in the U.S. can be coerced into behaving for fear of Santa Claus filling their stockings with coal instead of presents, the children of some European countries enter into the Yuletide season with a bit more lurking apprehension.
Krampus, whose name stems from the German word for claw, is a horned creature with dark, shaggy hair and a large, red tongue. The creature carries a rusty chain that noisily clanks as he approaches.
Krampus is said to accompany Santa Claus while visiting children on Dec. 6, during St. Nicholas Day. Children are tested by being asked to recite their catechisms. Good children, who remember their prayers, receive gifts from Santa, but bad children are punished by Krampus, who beats the children with his switch, a bundle of sticks. In other versions of the legend, Krampus can be seen dipping mischievous children into black ink or even carrying them away in a large satchel.
The origin of Krampus is generally accredited to the Norse pagan traditions of old. The early church worked to “Christianize” the pagan Yule festival season, transforming it into a celebration of Christ’s birth. As the holiday’s new, religious aspect began to spread throughout Europe, Krampus’s character began to diminish. It is no surprise then that Krampus failed to make it into American Christmas folklore.
Legends and festivities surrounding Krampus vary throughout Germany, Austria and some Eastern European countries. Some communities include Krampus in their St. Nicholas Day festivities, when men dress as Krampus and pretend to startle women and children. The Krampus is also referred to by other names, such as Knecht Ruprecht or Black Peter, but his assignment generally remains the same.
For most of us, the likelihood of being attacked by a stick-bearing, demon-esque figure is about as likely as reindeer landing on our roof. But now that the word is out, you can never be too certain, so you may just want to be nicer to your roommate this holiday season.
Sources: http://www.german-way.com/christmas-nikolaus_2.html, http://www.lesbarons.net/xmaswithkrampus/xmaswithkrampus-lo-fi-history.html, http://www.monstropedia.org/index.php?title=Krampus and “Christmas in Ritual and Tradion” by Clement A. Miles