The Dark Side of Christmas, the Legend of Krampus

I’ve always been very interested in the legend of Krampus. The idea that there is this dark and ominous beast legend woven into the jolliest and beautiful time of year is curious. So, I set out to ask a few friends in my nerd circle of folklore and mythology, to see what they had to say about this mythical creature, and our friend Hannah Logan, writer of Eat, Sleep, Breathe, Travel, was delighted to share her thoughts in this guest post on old Krampus. And I must say, this might be one of the most frightening and weird holiday traditions I’ve ever come to know.


Who is Krampus, the legend of Krampus


The Legend of Krampus


You better watch out, you better not cry…


He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake! No, I don’t mean Santa, I mean his alter ego Krampus; a popular Christmas tradition in European countries such as southern Germany, Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic. And trust me; you don’t want to make his naughty list! With origins beginning in Norse mythology, Krampus was once believed to be the son of Hel, ruler of the Norse underworld.


The History of Krampus


In the 17th century, Krampus was tied to Christian celebrations, and paired with St. Nicholas. Legends say that he joined St. Nicholas on his treks the night before St. Nicholas’ feast. While St. Nicholas would reward the good with gifts and treats, Krampus would punish the bad. In some cases, he would leave coal, but darker tales tell of ill-behaved children being stuffed into his sack to be carried away to hell.


His appearance is befitting of a demon. Dark matted fur with cloven hooves and large horns. His tongue is long and pointed and his teeth are sharp fangs. He is described as carrying chains or ruten, bundles of birch branches, to hit bad children with. Other times he is depicted with his sack, or even a washtub, which he uses to carry naughty children to the underworld where he will later torture and possibly even eat them.


Who is Krampus, the legend of Krampus


Krampus Now


Despite his pre-Christian origins, the legend of Krampus is still very much alive today. The night (December 5th) preceding St. Nicholas’ feast is nowadays known as Krampushnacht or Krampus Night. On this day the young men of the Alpine area dress up and wander through the streets with bells clanging to signify their approach, ready to chase children (and sometimes curious tourists) with their chains and whips.


Krampus maling its way into the mainstream here in the states. As seen in the 2013 Grimm Christmas season.

Krampus making its way into the mainstream here in the states. As seen in the 2013 Grimm Christmas season.

In the United States, Krampus has crept his way into pop culture with the hit T.V. series, Grimm. In 2013 the beast was featured in, The 12 Days of KrampusIn L.A. and all across the states we are seeing Krampus events pop up. A bit behind the trend I’d say. It makes me wonder, “will I be seeing Krampus cards in Target in 10 years?”. 


The legend of Krampus is so weird that people can’t heplk but to be fascinated by it. I’ll be honest, it’s even a little hard to look at, and would surely make my mother cringe. I can’t imagine how something so gnarly and twisted can be part of a holiday that’s so warm and fuzzy. But that’s what makes my job interesting. And as long as there are cool legends to be explored, I’ll be right there in the mix.


You might not be asking yourself, “who is Krampus” but instead telling yourself, “I better behave”. So the next time you hear a distant jingle on a cold December night, don’t be so quick to assume it’s good ol’ St. Nick. It just may be Krampus coming to drag you to hell! Are you writing a college paper or need thesis statement help? Feel free to email me with questions!

About Hannah Logan

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Hannah is a 20 something travel addict and writer from Ottawa, Canada. She been travelling off and on since 2011 and has recently completed and exceed her 25 by 25 goal. You can learn more about her adventures on Eat Sleep Breathe Travel where she shares her experiences and advice to encourage solo and female travel.

19 Comments on this post

  1. […] To learn more about this eerie legend check out the piece I wrote for The Fairytale Traveller The Dark Side of Christmas, The Legend of Krampus […]

  2. Those costumes are so frightening!

    wisemonkeysabroad / Reply
  3. ow, this is spookily “charming” 😉
    I didn’t know about Krampus! He sounds a bit like the Grinch, eh eh!

    Serena / Reply
  4. […] utterly confused. The tradition sounded familiar, yet so completely different. When I read about Krampus again on the FairytaleTraveler some more things became clear and I was thrilled to learn something new, […]

  5. […] holiday in China. Families return home to celebrate and hope for a prosperous new year, but as with Christmas, Chinese New Year has a darker […]

  6. I really like this. I love the idea of there being someone else other then Santa giving real punishment for being bad other then waking up empty handed. I’m all about legends and supernatural and Krampus is just up my alley, I’ll be watching the new Krampus movie with my sisters this December, it’s nice to see some horror it a time full of jolly

    Jamie / Reply
    • I’m really stoked for it. I saw a knock off of it I think on Google Play or Hulu… maybe even Netflix I can’t remember I use them all! But I think I’m even going to watch that one! HA!

  7. […] birch branches or can disappear, stuffed into Krampus’ sack and hauled off to his lair to be tortured or eaten. [3] “The Krampus is the yin to St. Nick’s yang,” Seghers tells “You have […]

  8. […] with birch branches or can disappear, stuffed into Krampus’ sack and hauled off to his lair to be tortured or eaten. [3] “The Krampus is the yin to St. Nick’s yang,” Seghers tells “You have […]

  9. […] The Dark Side of Christmas, the Legend of Krampus – Fairy Tale Traveler […]

    Krampus, the Christmas Demon / Reply
  10. I wouldn’t scare my children with the story of Krampus! I would prefer to explain them about the mythology and history behind it, less scary and more beneficial! A good article on the origins of Krampus can be found here:

    AncientExplorer / Reply
  11. I found this one pretty fascinating and it should go into my collection.

    Thesis Writing Help / Reply

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