Krampus: Naughty or Nice? Exploring the Origins of This Christmas Legend

 Krampus is coming

Now you have done this. You dropped the moral ball, and according to tradition, Krampus will come for you on December 5th. (Don't even pretend you don't know what you did.) While Santa gives gifts to everyone on his "good" list, his demonic friend, Krampus, cruelly punishes children who commit even the smallest of sins. Let's dare. Who is this Germanic yuletide bad boy with an endless supply of tree branches? Why have Americans started celebrating Santa's turning yang into yin?

According to legend, Krampus and Saint Nicholas travel together across Europe the night before Saint Nicholas Day, sharing pain and joy together. While St. Nicholas places candy in the shoes of good little children, Krampus beats bad children with birch branches. If the children are really terrible, he stuffs them in his sack and drags them screaming and crying back to his lair, where he either tortures them, eats them, or sends them to hell. Well, it depends on who is telling the story. Either way, it seems a little extreme for some temper tantrums.

The yuletide demon is before christmas

Even though he may have crept into Christmas tradition over the past few centuries, Krampus actually originated in the days of pre-Germanic paganism in Northern Europe. His name comes from the German Krampen, meaning "claw", and before he was Saint Nicholas's assistant steward, he was the son of Hel, the Norse god of the underworld. His frightening face, a monstrous goat man with one human leg and one goat foot, is linked to a 1,000-year-old pagan ritual that involved dressing up in scary costumes and running through the streets to ward off the spirits of winter.

   As Christianity became more prevalent, their form changed.

Under the influence of Christianity, the legend of Krampus evolved during the Middle Ages from a winter trickster with a propensity for violence to a devil who attacks youth. Before Christianity came along and really kicked the Krampus look into high gear, he was what we thought of as a satyr: half-goat, half-man, all testosterone. However, as Christianity expanded in Europe, Krampus was portrayed with more satanic connotations, including an obscenely long tongue and chains to bind him. His darkest addition to date since Christianity was the sack or basket that Krampus used to kidnap children.

Krampus was canonized by the church

Those medieval Christians may have done much better. In the 12th century, the Catholic Church put the kibosh on Krampus celebrations because he looked too much like the Devil for their comfort.

Efforts to crush Krampusnacht were never very successful. The next attempt to rid the world of this child-popping Yule beast came in 1923, when Austrian authorities banned all Krampus-related activities, not only because he was apparently evil, but also because the fascist government believed that That was a device created by the Social Democrats. Celebrate socialism under his rule. Pamphlets such as "Krampus is an evil man" flooded Austria to warn parents about the dangers of this Christmas monster, but the Krampus ban did not last long.

You'll get a beating on Krampsnacht

Krampusnacht celebrations returned to Germanic countries on a large scale in the late 20th century, even traveling to North America. During these noisy events, people dress up like Krampus and roam the streets looking for unlucky people with their switches, whether they be delinquent children or just adults who get in their way. The best Krampusnacht activities include passing out Krampus cards and leaving playful threats with friends.

Celebrations usually take place on 5 December, but depending on the region, they may take place a few days earlier or later. As long as revelers have Krampus in their hearts, the date doesn't really matter.

Krampus masks are an elaborate tradition

For all the rampant chaos that occurs during Krampsnacht, those for whom the holiday is a cultural tradition take it very seriously. The costumes they wear are elaborate and handmade, the piece de resistance being the homemade mask. These masks are often painstakingly made of wood, and thus can take several months to complete. It is clear from these artisan masks that Krampus is very important to the Germans and Alpine peoples.

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