headlines | about |

Time of the Krampus

December 17, 2009. It might be a sign of the season, but I just heard about the Krampus, a demonic figure engineered to coerce obedience and contrition. Scary stuff, although no worse than some of the art commissars, press agents and museum functionaries I've encountered out there. But please do not fear. They are just dressed up bogeymen. They might shake their chains and make grim noises, but they're only as fierce as you let them be, and they will all eventually pass on.

Here's the Wikipedia entry:

Krampus is a mythical creature who accompanies Saint Nicholas in various regions of the world during the Christmas season, especially Austria. The word Krampus originates from the Old High German word for claw (Krampen). In the Alpine regions, Krampus is represented by an incubus-like creature. While Saint Nicholas gives gifts to good children, the Krampus warns and punishes bad children. Traditionally, young men dress up as the Krampus in the first two weeks of December, particularly in the evening of December 5, and roam the streets frightening children and women with rusty chains and bells. In some rural areas the tradition also includes birching by Krampus, especially of young girls. Images of Krampus usually show him with a basket on his back used to carry away bad children and dump them into the pits of Hell.

Modern Krampus costumes consist of Larve (wooden masks), sheep's skin, and horns. Considerable effort goes into the manufacture of the hand-crafted masks, and many younger adults in rural communities compete in the Krampus events.

In Oberstdorf, in the southwestern alpine part of Bavaria, the tradition of der Wilde Mann ("the wild man") is kept alive. He is like Krampus (except the horns), is dressed in fur, and frightens children (and adults) with rusty chains and bells, but is not an assistant of Saint Nicholas.

In an odd coincidence, Krampus resembles an evil version of the Wiki GNU Free Documentation License icon.

And let us not forget Georgia O'Keeffe.

Here's a lovely parade of Krampi accompanied by the benediction of St. Nicholas.

Krampus even has his own site, from which the subsequent text and images are extracted:

Krampus is the dark counterpart of Saint Nicholas, the traditional European gift-bringer who visits on his holy day of December 6th, a few weeks earlier than his offshoot Mr. Claus. Like his American descendant, the bishop-garbed St. Nicholas rewards good kids with gifts and treats; unlike the archetypal Santa, however, St. Nicholas never punishes naughty children, parceling out this task to a ghastly helper from below.

Known by many names across the continent, such as Knecht Ruprecht, Klaubauf, Pelzebock, Schmutzli and Krampus, this figure is unmistakably evil; he often appears as a traditional red devil with cloven hoof and goatish horns, although he can also be spotted as an old bearded wild-man or a huge hairy beast. He comes to punish the naughty children, and is often depicted carrying them in chains or in a basket to a fiery place below.

On December 5th and 6th, in Austria, Switzerland, Croatia, Germany and other regions of European, children greet kindly St. Nicholas with his bag of toys and sweets only to find the Saint's devilish assistant trailing behind. Hideously costumed as a devil or wild man with a whipping switch or chains, Krampus comes to frighten the mischievous children into contrition.

On the eve of St. Nicholas Day, also known as Krampusnacht (Night of Krampus), in Austria and other areas, sin-loving folk dressed as devils, wild-men and witches begin the ancient ritual known today as the Krampus Run. Often intoxicated and bearing torches, these beastly demons caper, cavort and carouse as they make their way through the streets, scaring child and adult alike.

Grüß von Krampus!


Greetings from Krampus. St. Nicholas has always operated on his "naughty or nice" policy, right? You get presents if you're nice, but what do you get if you're naughty? Some coal? Pretty weak. Not a great deterrent for naughty kids.

But throughout Austria and the Alps, there is a reason to be nice. Some pagan traditions continue to thrive. One is the legend of Krampus. St. Nicholas would make his rounds to all the houses to deliver gifts to children. But he had with him a constant companion- Krampus. If you were naughty, spoiled, or bratty, the wooly, goat horned Krampus would chase you and beat you with a switch. In some cases, he would take you home, cook you, and eat you.

Krampus has his own special day, December 5th. But Krampus festivities now run into the following weekend. Gangs of fellows dressed in furs, wooden masks, and horns, ransack Austrian towns, frightening young and old alike.


Passen Sie auf! Krampus Kommt!

images on including



Krampus is a bound devil who escorts the benevolent Saint Nikolo on the eve of his day ~ Nikolo tests the children with their Catechism and good behavior. If they pass he gives gifts and treats. If they fail, Krampus is set loose to deal with these bad children; worse than lumps of coal & rotten potatoes, he may also use a switch of twigs to beat them and molests the bad children in other ways... giving them a taste of Hell to come. He comes disguised as the sinister farm hand or servant named Ruprecht in Lutheran lands, because Martin Luther tried to squelch demon superstitions... although his name still harkens to the running demons of the 12 wild nights of winter. On the eve of Saint Nikolo's Day (December 5th) children are put to bed and warned of their peril. They may avoid a direct visit by leaving shoes outside the door. If they sleep soundly, they will not have to deal with the test, and in the morning of St Nikolo's Day (December 6th) they will find either treats & small gifts in their shoes, or a switch, lump of coal, or rotten potatoes. Parents are expected to use the switch on those children so designated as having been really bad. Perhaps they can heed the warning and behave better until Christmas when the Christ child brings gifts.


There is apparently a thriving business in Krampus postcards from the late 19th century, a book for sale on Amazon, and even Krampus dolls.