You may have spent your childhood hearing stories about Santa Claus, visiting Santa at the mall, and writing out a Christmas List to send to Santa Claus. There is another mythical holiday character that is associated with Christmas that you may be unaware of. Krampus could be described as the opposite of Santa Claus.
National Geographic describes Krampus as “a half-goat, half-demon, horrific beast who literally beats people into being nice and not naughty”. Krampus has large horns, dark hair, fangs, and a frightening appearance. He has the cloven hoofs of a goat He carries a sack and a bundle of birch sticks (or a rod). The legend of Krampus is well known in the Alpine regions of central Europe.
St. Nicholas brings toys to good girls and boys (and coal to the naughty kids). In some parts of the world, Santa puts candy into the shoes of the good kids and twigs into the shoes of the naughty kids. St. Nicholas arrives on December 6, St. Nicholas Day, or Nicholaustag. German children check their shoes the next day to see if they got a present (for being good) or a rod (for being naughty).
Krampus, on the other hand, punishes naughty children by beating them with a birch stick, or putting them into his sack – to be hauled off to his lair. Krampus leaves the good kids alone. Krampus arrives on Krampusnacht (or Krampus Night) which is also December 6.
There is a Krampus Parade that takes place in Leinz’, Austria, every year. The Krampus Parade is also called Perchtenlauf or Klaubaufe. It is based on a centuries-old tradition called Krampuslauf (or Krampus Run). Young men dress up as Krampus and parade through the streets in an ancient pagan ritual meant to disperse winter’s ghosts.
The history of the Krampus goes back to pre-Germanic paganism. The name Krampus comes from the German word krampen (which means “claw” in English). The story behind Krampus is that he is the son of Hel, the Norse god of the underworld. The cloven hooves of Krampus could be described as similar to the satyr or faun of Greek myths. Some associate Krampus with the Horned God of the Witches. Others connect Krampus with Alpine mountain spirtits called Perchten.
In the 1800’s, families in the Alpine regions, Austria, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic exchanged colorful greeting cards called Krampuskarten. These were holiday cards that included holiday drawings of Krampus.
In the 1940’s and 1950’s, the Krampus tradition was prohibited in Austria. The reason was because the Krampus was considered by some to be too traumatic for children. Since then, Krampus has made a resurgence not only in Austria but also in other countries.
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