[Podcast] A Brief History of Krampus, Everyone’s Favorite Christmas Devil

December 25 is coming up, and everybody is getting geared up for their Baby Jesus celebration. However, Christmas is not the only wintry celebration to come in the month of December.

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Due to the winter solstice, December has always been host to a number of pagan festivals, and some believe the date of Christmas was chosen to offset the many, many pagan rituals of the time period, including Saturnalia and Natalis Invicti. Similarly, if you’ve ever heard of the Yuletide, then you’ve at least passively acknowledged a Norse tradition.

The reason for the season, historically, outside of the Christian religion, has to do with the re-birth of the sun gods and the celebration of the returning of light to the world. The winter solstice represents the shortest day of the year, and getting the sun back is definitely a reason to celebrate.

But today’s episode isn’t about Christmas, not really. It’s about a half-goat, half-demon who punishes all the bad little children of the world, so if you were naughty this year, perhaps you should put off listening until the dawn has lit upon a post-Christmas day. Yes, I’ll be talking about Krampus.

Krampus is a “half-goat, half-demon” with long horns and killer beard whose name comes from the German ‘Krampen’ for claw. He is the dark yin to Santa Claus’s yang. While Saint Nick brings joy and happiness to the good children of the world, Krampus punishes the bad children in some pretty deviant ways.

He is a myth figure in middle and eastern Europe, including Austria, Bavaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, and Northern Italy. Basically, anywhere in the Alpine Region, you’re bound to run into the horned goat creature. If you travel over to Iceland, you’ll find a whole host of these Santa figures, known as the Jolasveinar. There’s the ‘Door Slammer’, ‘The Window Peeper,’ ‘The Sausage Snatcher,’ and ‘The Doorway Sniffer.’

December 5 is considered Krampusnacht, which I assume translates to Krampus Night. On this night, he travels from house-to-house, like Old Saint Nick, and leaves bundles of sticks for bad children. Doesn’t sound that bad, huh? Like coal in a stocking. However, if Krampus deems the child to be bad enough, he might bag up the offending child and toss her in a river or take her straight on down to Hell and save himself the trouble of trying to redeem the little bastard.

He is sometimes depicted as having one cloven goat foot and one human foot, perhaps to bridge the gap of his half-human, half-devil form. The chain he carries may be a vestigial holdover having to do with binding the devil and whatnot, but today it just makes for one hell of a terrifying legend.

The next day, after Krampus has whipped or damned all the evil kids, is Nikolastaugh, or St. Nicholas Day. The Dutch name, Sinterklass, eventually became our modern Santa Claus. It was his job to bring presents to all the good little boys and girls who missed the wrath of Krampus.

Nicholas himself became popular in Germany in the 11th Century, and though it is unclear when, exactly, Krampus came to popularity, it goes back as far as pre-Christian times. He is believed to be the son of Hel from Norse mythology, but whether that is exactly true is anybody’s guess. Either way, he is totally a pagan symbol.

By the 17th century, Krampus had been incorporated into Christian celebrations. Over the course of a few hundred years, he melded together with the Santa Claus myth to become something of a dark, violent companion to the fat old gift-giver.

And just as the legend grew, so did the list of punishments bad ole Krampus would mete out. This next part comes from a site called The Robot’s Voice:

According to a series of very popular 1800s postcards, Krampus enjoyed: ripping pigtails out, leading children off a cliff, sadistic ear-pulling, putting pre-teens in shackles, forcing children to beg for mercy, and throwing youngsters on an Express Train to The Lake of Fire (making no local stops). And then there’s my favorite: drowning children to death in ink and fishing out the corpse with a pitchfork.

In fact, today people can participate in the Krampuslauf (Krampus Run) in which young men dress up and participate. Other festivals include people dressing up as the goat-devil and attacking poor, unsuspecting party-goers, usually chasing them down and beating them about the legs with the birch sticks Krampus is known to carry.

I’m not sure if this is still true, but some homes in the Alpine region were known to leave the bag of birch sticks hanging on the wall all year as a reminder to be good, lest Krampus make his visit the next Krampusnacht.

So, if you’re looking for a way to keep your kids in line for the coming year, maybe nail one of these above their beds, amirite?


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