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.
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.
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 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!