Christmas is traditionally a time of celebrations, good food and warm holiday cheer. Promises of Santa and his sack full of presents send shivers of excitement through children around the world. They are jovially reminded to be good or they could end up with a lump of coal in their Christmas stockings. Meanwhile, in the Alpine countries of Europe, children tremble at the mention of Krampus.
Krampus, a beast-like creature with hair, horns and a long tounge, was created centuries ago in Germany as a counterpart to kindly St. Nicholas. Instead of coal, Krampus swats the youth with his switches and takes them away to his lair in his firewood sack. The name “Krampus” is derived from the old German expression for “claw,” a testament to the menacing appearance of the creature. The European Saint Nicolas visits children on December 6th, which commemorates the original real-life saint’s day. According to the customs in areas ranging from Austria and Germany to Switzerland and other nearby regions, Krampus tags along with Saint Nicolas or precedes him on December 5th to deliver punishments to bad children on this day.
A more modern take on the tradition in Austria, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic involves drunken men dressed as Krampus beasts, who take over the streets for a Krampuslauf—a Krampus Run of sorts, when people are chased through the streets by the "Krampus."
As with many customs around the world, the tradition of Krampus persists today perhaps simply to continue a practice that has been so deeply embedded in certain cultures over thousands and thousands of years. It certainly does have its detractors, but to many locals it’s all in good fun. While it may seem like a rather extreme idea to those unfamiliar, perhaps it is simply another version of the boogeyman, albeit much more visual!