I’ve always been very interested in the legend of Krampus. For most of my life, I had no idea who or what a “Krampus” was.
It was probably sometime around 2015 when I saw a film trailer about the Christmas beast. And much like the rest of us here in the US, I went into a rabbit hole of the legend of Krampus.
I had questions.
Where did Krampus come from? Why is this thing so terrifying? And why are there folks incorporating this beast into their Christmas traditions?
The idea that there is this dark and ominous beast legend woven into the jolliest and most beautiful time of year is very curious to me.
So, I set out to ask a few friends in my circle of folklore and mythology, to see what they had to say about the legend of Krampus. My friend Hannah Logan, writer of Eat, Sleep, Breathe, Travel, was delighted to share her thoughts.
And I must say, this might be one of the most frightening and weird holiday traditions I’ve ever come to know.
The Legend of Krampus
“You better watch out, you better not cry…” you likely recall this as a jolly song that brings warm memories of ambient light gleaming from the Christmas tree, peppermint, and the smell of a yule log.
Not if you came up with the legend of Krampus to haunt your dreams.
“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.
The legend of Krampus is 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.
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.
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 Krampus.
In 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 help but 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.
As time has carried on, more and more films have popped up on US streaming platforms that depict Krampus and all his horror. Few of these represent the legend of Krampus well. But that’s how adaptations usually go.
I”ll be totally honest, there’s a certain circle of friends that I enjoy a good Christmas horror flick with, and Krampus never fails to deliver.
So, if you’re looking for something to stream and you have the horror genre itch to scratch, do a search and see what pops up. You likely won’t find a blockbuster, but you’ll definitely be entertained.
You might not be asking yourself who Krampus is after reading this, but instead telling yourself, “I better behave.” And if that’s the case, the legend of Krampus has made its way into your soul in proper form.
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!