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The Story of Krampus

The Anti-Christmas Spirit Revised

Christmas is a wonderful time of year when the nice man in red brings gifts to all of the well-behaved children. It's a time of joy and love. For some, however, the Christmas demon might make a surprised trip so let's dive in to the story of Krampus, the Christmas demon.

Who is Krampus?

The legend of Krampus comes from central European folklore—primarily from Germanic folklore. The name Krampus comes from the German word "Krampen" meaning claw. The demonic figure has many different names attached to him such as Klaubauf, Bartl, Bartel, Niglobartl, Wubartl, Pelzebock, Pelznickel, Gumphinckel, and Krampusz.

Krampus is a Christmas demon and child-eater said to be one of the companions of Saint Nicholas, who is known to give gifts to the poor and well-behaved. Krampus, on the other hand, comes during the Christmas period to kidnap children who misbehave as a form of punishment. The true origins of Krampus are unclear and undetermined, although some folklorists and anthropologists have suggested Krampus to be dated as far back as pre-Christian origins.

What does Krampus look like?

Krampus hasn't really changed in appearance except in movies where they have taken a more demonised approach to him. In fact, Krampus was originally depicted as a half-goat, half-demon with a mangled, deranged face, bloodshot eyes, a hairy black body, a long pointed tongue, and sharp fangs and horns that curl up from his head. Krampus is often pictured with one human foot and one cloven hoof.

Chains, Bells, Birches, and Ways of Attack

Although the modern depictions of Krampus, the Christmas demon, are still terrifying in appearance, he has been made more wholesome in terms of how he takes his victims, but he keeps some original aspects that made him terrifying to begin with. Krampus is known to have some important appearance details that relate back to Christian and Pagan traditions such as chains, bells, and birches.

Krampus carries chains that are sometimes combined with bells of various sizes. He thrashes these together for a dramatic effect when he is chasing his victims. Many believe the chains are a symbol of the binding of the Devil by the Christian church while the bells act as a luring device rather than for any effect.

Bundles of birches are often seen with Krampus. The bundle is actually a traditional symbol of Alpine Pagan origin, known as "Ruten," and it is sometimes still used today. Ruten is made by bundling up thin wigs of fresh-cut birch branches and then formed by using a technique called "whipping" to create a firm binding. Some people use gold-painted Ruten and hang them on the walls of their home to remind children of Krampus and to behave. Krampus has been known to carry Ruten, which he will occasionally swat children with and may have significance in Christian and pre-Christian imitation rites. In some variations of Krampus, though, the Ruten is replaced with a whip.

Krampus has various ways of attacking or kidnapping victims, and sometimes he appears with a sack or basket on his back to cart away the naughty children for drowning, eating, or transporting them to Hell. In some of the earlier versions of Krampus, some depict naughty children being put in a bag and taken away. This can be found in other companions of Saint Nicholas. Other ways he attacks the creature poking them with sticks and scaring some with the realisation of them being naughty, although the main depiction is Krampus kidnapping children.

Krampusnacht and Krampuskarten

Krampus night, or "Krampusnacht," is on the fifth of December, the day before the feast of Saint Nicholas on the sixth. Krampus night is when the wicked devil appears in the streets—sometimes with Satin Nicholas—and he visits homes and businesses of the misbehaved as the saint often appears in vestments of a bishop and carries a golden ceremonial staff. Saint Nicholas only concerns himself with good children, while Krampus only concerns himself with the bad children. These both differ from America's Santa Claus.

Saint Nicholas will give candy and nice presents to the children, while Krampus gifts coal and Ruten.

Krampuskarten

Europeans have been sending and receiving greeting cards with Krampus on them since the 1800s, usually reading "Gruß vom Krampus," which translates to "Greetings from Krampus." The cards are normally presented with a menacing figure of Krampus looking over children with a funny rhyme or poem in the card. These cards, however, have been toned down throughout the years, and the representation of Krampus has changed. Older styles of the cards were scarier compared to modern cards that depict him as a more Cupid-like creature, which has also been featured on postcards and candy packaging.

Read next: Chapter Three
Leanne Smith
Leanne Smith

Aspiring writer and performer, massive horror fanatic and kpop fan. Things I will mainly write about are horror, myths, kpop, TV, film and games with a little bit of life-hack and top 10 lists on the side. 

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The Story of Krampus
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Chapter Three