Who is Krampus and Should You be Scared?

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You may have heard about the recently released holiday-horror flick, Krampus, starring the Academy Award winning actress Toni Collette. In this oddly scripted seasonal movie, Collette plays the mother of a completely dysfunctional family falling apart during the holidays.

Due to their lack of Christmas spirit and rotten behavior, the family will not be visited by Jolly old Saint Nick… and will instead be haunted by a demonic being known as “Krampus,”.  Krampus is the polar opposite of Santa (no pun intended, kinda).  He takes rather than gives

Who is Krampus? Does Krampus exist?  Is this creeper a legend, an old, lesser-known myth, or a monster from the past not unlike Count Dracula, whom we know was based on Vlad the Impaler?


First Things First: Saintly Santa

Russian icon depicting St Nicholas

Russian icon depicting St Nicholas (Bjoertvedt/ccbysa30)

Before we start on a journey of persecuting Krampus and prior to unwrapping his tale, what about the legend of Santa Claus? He started his journey as Saint Nicholas, a religious figure clothed in white, rather than the traditional red, who reigned as a figurehead some three hundred years AD. His early days were spent being persecuted in Rome and he was completely independent of our current version of Santa Claus who supposedly resides at the North Pole.

Later, when St. Nick transformed himself into a more child-friendly version of today’s fabled gift-giver, he was still known to punish those on the naughty list. He would either deny them presents altogether or give them a lump of coal instead of a toy as a reminder of their bad behavior. This tactic served parents well, tricking their youngsters into being “good behavior”, at least during the latter months of the year…


The Devil You Know

Krampus Devil/DemonSo who is this Krampus character anyway and when did he hit the holiday scene? While a 2015 holiday film might bring him into today’s spotlight, some of our great-great grandparents might remember him otherwise. Santa, it would seem, has his own evil half… Krampus.

Similar to the devil himself, Krampus apparently has a number of apparitions, from the classic demon with cloven hooves, sprouting horns and a snake-like tongue, to a sinister gentleman dressed in a black suit… although he has also been noted to be a hairy man-beast that more resembles a goat.


Krampus:  The Early Years

Krampus and little girl with braidSome tie Krampus’ roots to a figure known as Enkidu, who was formed of clay and saliva, by Aruru, the god of creation some 2,000 years before Jesus Christ allegedly walked the earth, although (and like many legends or myths)  it’s difficult to prove that connection. In 1,250 AD, in a Norwegian text entitled The King’s Mirror, mentions a wild man covered in hair, but these are just loose references to a beastly, demonic creature.

However, in the 17th century, a character known as “Knecht Rupert” appears as a figure in a Nurenberg Christmas procession.  This figure seems to bear a resemblance to the Krampus we know today. In the early 19th century, holiday postcards from Germany, Austria and other parts of Europe began to feature creepy caricatures of Krampus along with greetings from good, ole Saint Nick.


Krampus:  Modern Times

Krampus - are you on the naughty list?In 2004, Krampus started popping up and continued to make scattered appearances during the new millennium.  A Blab! Magazine section showcased a collection called “The Devil in Disguise”, which offered a myriad of Krampus postcards from the turn of the 19th century. Later that year, an Adult Swim production of The Venture Brothers had Krampus appear as one of their characters.

A few years later in 2007, Krampus had a spot on the American television series “Supernatural,” where he was the subject of one of their segments. Then in 2009, The Colbert Report was visited by the same evil spirit. Krampus also appeared on an animated episode of American Dad and the NBC chiller Grimm. Given these appearances in the 21st century, it wasn’t long before Hollywood took notice and turned this grim character into the theme for a major motion picture where it could exploit the popular phenomenon.


Krampusnacht:  Krampus’ Night

Krampus at KrampusnachtSo what makes this creature creepier than the Boogey Man or any other monster that’s hiding in our children’s closets or lurking underneath their beds? According to legend, Krampus has his own night of haunting aside from Christmas Eve, known as “Krampusnacht” which occurs the night before December the 6th (“nacht” is German for “night”).

On this date, ironically associated with an old Christian holiday known as Saint Nicholas Day (the eve before the original saint passed away), Krampus visits all the naughty children and inflicts his devilish wrath upon them.

Punishment includes beating them with a switch, incarcerating them in chains, stuffing them into a basket and dragging them into a fiery furnace located somewhere beneath the comfort and safety of their bedroom… a place likened to Hades or hell.


Krampus Sightings?

Unlike the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, extraterrestrials, ghosts, goblins, devils, ghosts and other supernatural creatures, there haven’t been many reported sightings or footage of Krampus.  The only “footage” is that of the recently released movie.

However, back in 2013, there was another addition of our seasonal Satan called, Krampus: The Christmas Devil, where a local sheriff goes in search of his own childhood kidnapper who is stealing children in his current jurisdiction.Krampusnacht "Party"

Need more Krampus?  You can get more than a glimpse of this modern day maker of mayhem if you trek to Austria where alcohol fuels a night of dressing up as the ghastly ghoul of goodness gone bad. Their annual celebration includes hundreds of devilishly dressed demons who parade through the streets to snatch up delinquent children and drag them to the depths of despair.


You have been warned

Krampus Christmas ChildYou better watch out…

You better not cry…

You better not pout…

I’m telling you why…

Krampus is coming to town.

Ok, not really.  But it’s a cool tradition like Halloween.  He’s fictional and makes for good horror movies.  So it seems the only thing you have to fear about Krampus is being forced to sit through an entire cheesy horror movie.