With the Christmas season now upon us and people all over the country spreading holiday cheer, many may be discovering the flip side to the festivities thanks to Krampus, the Christmas Devil. With the terrifying character making his way into the holiday conversation, many may not know all they need to.
Krampus, who is known in other cultures as Knecht Ruprecht, Certa, Perchten, Black Peter, Schmutzli, Pelznickel and Klaubauf, has proliferated American pop culture in recent years, all coming to a head with the upcoming release of the feature film “Krampus,” which hits theaters on Dec. 4. However, if you’re one of the few who still has no clue who Krampus is and why everyone is talking about him, below are a few facts about the enforcer of the nuaghty list:
What In The World Is Krampus?
So we’ve all known the story of Santa since we were little kids and our parents explained him to us. However, if you were born a few years earlier in a different part of the world, you may have heard a drastically different story. Instead of Santa bringing naughty children a lump of coal, he used to outsource the job to Krampus, a half-goat, half-man creature that’s said to come straight from the depths of hell. After all, what better place for a story about violent demons than the Christmas season?
According to National Geographic, Krampus lumbers about with large horns, a rusty chain, bells and a bag full of birch sticks mean to beat naughty children into submission before scooping them up in his sack and dragging them back to his lair in the underworld. That’s right, while most put out cookies and milk for jolly old St. Nicholas each year, others were shaking with terror thinking that a literal monster was going to torture them.
Who Thought This Was A Good Idea?
Krampus’ origins are hard to pin down, but most agree that the horrible tradition began in Europe. His name is derived from the German word “krampen,” which means “claw.” With roots in Norse mythology, he is often meant as the dark counter-part to the Dutch tradition of St. Nicholas. According to the monster’s own website, he likely was derived from the ancient European tradition in which people dressed up as monsters and fairy tale creatures to perform in the streets. While that tradition is typically associated with what we know as Halloween, a regular staple of these performances was Old Man Winter and his horned Goat-Man. Over the years, it is believed that these two characters morphed into the Santa Claus and Krampus that we now know today. At his core, Krampus was meant to give children incentive to actually be nice all year rather than just phone it in and collect presents on Dec. 25.
People In The Past Did A Lot Of Weird Things, Why Do I Care?
While most cultures have agreed that Krampus is a pretty terrible concept to teach young children and fazed him out of their holiday traditions, his celebration lingers on. St. Nicholas has a monopoly over Dec. 25, but Krampus gets his very own night on Dec. 6 called Krampusnacht. While the holiday previously had its own traditions, today it’s like the Santa Parade only 1,000 times scarier. Places like Germany, Austria and, according to The Guardian, cities in the United States like San Francisco and Portland, hold events in which people can get dressed up and go on a booze-fueled romp through the streets. The goal of this festival is terrorizing children and scaring them into being nice. While some would call this a living nightmare, others simply call it Krampusnacht.
If you’re interested in seeing what some of these celebrations look like around the world, the Atlantic collected some high-res photos from various celebrations.
Why Is He Coming Back In Pop Culture Now?
The frightening truth is, Krampus never really left. His story was simply suppressed for many years by the Catholic Church and fascists during World War II (via National Geographic). While the Church’s objections were to the monster’s obvious pre-Germanic Pagan roots, the fascists simply didn’t like that he was a creation of the Social Democrats. In other words, Krampus didn’t get looped out of the public zeitgeist because he’s scary, evil and violent -- he was suppressed for political reasons. Since then, people that have heard his story have included him in TV and movie storylines, which have succeeded in sparking a modern-day audience's curiosity.
Alright, I’m Scared. How Do I Avoid Krampus?
This one is easy, you avoid Krampus the same way you avoid getting a lump of coal, make friends and not feel guilty when your loved ones go all out on your Christmas gift -- just don’t be a jerk. Krampus only comes after naughty children, but boy does he come after them. However, if you simply act kind and do everything you reasonably can to make Santa’s infamous “nice list,” you’ll probably be fine. You can also prepare some battle strategy by checking out “Krampus” when it hits theaters on Dec. 4.