Is Krampus Real?

Every year on Christmas Eve, jolly Santa Claus visits all the children in the world He gives sweets and presents to all the good children, and lumps of coal to all the bad ones

It is common knowledge that Santa Claus is Saint Nicholas, a Greek bishop who lived in what is now Turkey, who was known for his generosity What is less well known, is his travelling companion In the Christian calendar, Saint Nicholas’ feast day is December 6th But on the night before, in Austria, a demonic creature stalks the streets, hunting for naughty children He may beat them, or put them in his basket and whisk them away to hell, or devour them in his lair

He is is known as Krampus – but is he real? Reports of Krampus go back hundreds of years Most commonly, Krampus is described as a half-goat, half-demon humanoid, with great horns, fangs, a long tail, one cloven hoof and one recognisably human foot His shaggy hide is bound by chains, which rattle as he approaches Apart from the basket on his back, he also carries a fistful of twigs or sticks, often birch Krampus will leave these sticks in the stockings of naughty kids – or use them to beat misbehaved children

On Krampus Night, children would disappear, kidnapped by Krampus and thrown into streams to drown The ones whose bodies were never found were believed to have been taken beyond our world to burn in hellfire, or to be digested in Krampus’ belly Krampus’ origins are a great mystery The first confirmed stories of Krampus come from the 16th century, but historians think Krampus sightings go back a millenium They originate in the remote Alpine valleys of Austria

Most folklorists think Krampus predates Christianity, and he may even be the son of Hel from Norse mythology The name is derived from the German word krampen, which means claw He has been associated with Santa Claus since the 17th century – folklorist Maurice Bruce argues this is when the chains were added to the stories, as a symbol of pagan demons being conquered by the true faith To Christians, krampus was as real as Santa Not all Christians welcomed Krampus into their traditions

Krampus was banned in Austria under a fascist dictatorship between 1934 and 1938, because he was seen as anti-Christian, sinful, and therefore associated with Social Democrats Needless to say, the ban was lifted Today, Austrians annually celebrate the krampuslauf, when men – often drunk – dress up as krampus and chase naughty children around the town SECTION THREE There are similar winter traditions across Europe, usually surrounding the concept of the wild man, who is animalistic in nature This suggests krampus’ pagan origins may go deeper

Tellingly, the wooden masks carved for krampusnacht are called perchten This name comes from the goddess Perchta Her name means “the bright one” in Old High German, and she appeared as a beautiful, snow-white woman Yet she also appeared old and haggard, with one weirdly enlarged foot, like krampus’ unusual appendages She is the equivalent of Italy’s La Befana, the old witch who, on the 5th January, fills the socks of good children with sweets, and leaves lumps of coal for bad kids

She in turn has obvious similarities to Father Christmas Perchta herself may be an amalgamation of Celtic and Germanic traditions, but scholars disagree In 1882, Jacob Grimm concluded she is a pre-Christian deity; but John B Smith said that, like Befana, she is the personification of Epiphany, the Christian celebration of Jesus’s manifestation But Perchta’s familiars are not very Christ-like: they have horns, tusks and tails, and are known as perchten – the same name as the krampus masks

These masks cost hundreds of Euros, and they are not the only krampus merchandise available Krampus greetings cards have been sent since the 1800s, some of which show a more lecherous version of the beast In recent years, chocolates, decorations, films and TV shows have been inspired by him The annual krampus parades in Europe have become major tourist attractions: in the city of Graz, in Austria, the 2013 krampus run was attended by 35,000 people Dedicated krampus museums exist, preserving examples of the krampus costumes that have been made over the years

Naturally, this has led to complaints about commercialization, especially since krampus’ popularity started to spread in America Doctor Eva Kreissl says krampus is becoming increasingly marketable, and many people are buying devil horns to go with their santa hats However, since krampus does not distribute gifts and actively hurts or even kills children, does that not make him the anti-Saint Nick? There is no firm evidence that krampus exists beyond a bunch of drunk men dressing up each December His origins are very obscure National Geographic speculates that the appeal of krampus is his intrinsic mystery

And while krampus performs the darkest deeds, he only does them to those who deserve it So his scariness may be mitigated by his targeting of the guilty – in other words, the justness of his actions On the other hand, his popularity may have spread simply because, culturally, Christmas tends to be about either the thankful contemplation of the incarnation of God, or the saccharine gathering of the family around the hearth, or the greedy accumulation of material goods Krampus therefore offers a Scrooge-like antidote to overly religious or indulgent traditions He offers the chance to get in touch with our roots – and perhaps even to channel ancient powers, long since forgotten

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