The Legend of the Krampus

We’ve all seen the advertisements for the movie Krampus, which came out just this past Friday. For those curious about the origins of the title creature, you’re in luck because today’s Urban Legend post is about Santa’s evil sidekick himself.

A 1900s greeting card reading ‘Greetings from the Krampus!’

What’s the story?
While there is speculation that Krampus dates back to ancient Norse Mythology as the grandson of Loki, the best known origin for the creature resides in the Alpine region of Europe. Germanic folklore describes Krampus as a horned, demon-like creature who punishes the children on St. Nicholas’ “Naughty” list.

Even though the popular Santa mythos today states that “Nice” kids get presents and “Naughty” kids get a lump of coal, this was not always the case. In the original story, the “Naughty” kids would be visited by Krampus on the night of December 4 to receive punishment. Some stories claim that this punishment consisted of lashings with a birch stick while others claim that Krampus dragged the misbehaving children down to hell for a year.

Krampus, who’s name is derived from the German word krampen (meaning “claw”), serves as a contrast to St. Nicholas. He is often paired with the popular Christmas figure in order to create a balance of good and evil. This dichotomy has been used since the 1600s to scare children into behaving. It’s definitely more effective than the idea of a lump of coal, if you ask me.

How’s it used today?

Krampus parade in Pörtschach am Wörthersee (2013)

While Krampus is nearly unheard of in the United States, many cities and towns in the Alpine region of Europe still recognize the mythical figure as a loved and feared symbol. Krampus festivals typically kick off the holiday season. They can range from parades of young men wearing Krampus costumes, shaking birch sticks and chains, to large gatherings called Krampuslauf, where revelers get together, drink and chase people through the streets dressed as the terrifying creature.

Even today, on Krampusnacht (December 4) each year, it is typical for St. Nicholas and Krampus (or, rather, men dressed up like them) to go around to homes and businesses to hand out presents or coal, respectively.

Did you grow up believing in Krampus? If so, we’d love to hear about it! Be sure to let us know what you think in the comments!

Is there an Urban Legend you’d like to read about? A ghost story you’re dying for others to read? Now is your chance to let us know what you want us to write about! Leave a comment below and tell us what you would like us to cover!


3 thoughts on “The Legend of the Krampus

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