Monster Monday: Krampus

We all know about vampires and werewolves, or at least we think we do. The legends and myths that inspired these monsters are sometimes surprisingly different, but no less chilling. In this series of posts, Monster Monday, we’ll investigate the monsters that have informed our modern notions, as well as some lesser known monsters. Today, we talk about the Krampus.

St. Nicholas and the Kramus visit a Viennese home, newspaper illustration from 1896
St. Nicholas and the Krampus visit a Viennese home, newspaper illustration from 1896

The Krampus is a creature from the folklore of the Alpine countries, especially Austria and southern Germany. He accompanies St. Nicholas on the night of December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas’ Day, and while St. Nicholas delivers presents to children who have been good, the Krampus punishes children who have been bad.

Generally the Krampus is depicted as demonic in appearance, with dark brown or black hair, cloven hooves instead of feet, a goat’s horns, and a long tongue that lolls out of his mouth. He often wears chains and bells, and carries birch bundles. Sometimes he also carries a sack for carrying off children who have been particularly naughty.

The Krampus is one of the many examples of pre-Christian pagan beliefs that have been incorporated into Christmas celebrations. There are many remnants of mid-winter rituals and celebrations in the Krampus legend, including the use of birch, which had symbolic significance for many pre-Christian communities, as well as belief in a “horned god.” In many case the horned god was recast as the Christian devil, and the chains the Krampus wears might symbolize attempts to “bind the devil.”

It was also common in Germany and Austria in the nineteenth century to send Krampus greeting cards, which depicted the Krampus in often humorous situations.

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