Many children refuse to sleep the night before Christmas because they are trying to catch a glimpse of Santa Clause. However, Eastern European children have a different reason for losing holiday sleep: a creepy Christmas demon that haunts their dreams. Yes, Krampus is a tradition that comes to town every year — and sometimes in a parade.
Who Is Krampus?
Krampus is a horned figure of old central European folklore. He has a demon-like creature usually featured with hand-carved wooden masks, suits made from sheep or goat skin, and large cow bells attached to the waist. Some towns have street festivals to celebrate Krampus, but for others, the creatures stalk the streets alone.
“There are a lot of different stories or tales about what Krampus will do to you if you are naughty,” Molli Bauke, a resident of Vienna, Austria, told the Orion. “But, he travels with a broom-type thing to hit kids with.”
To translate, the tradition says that every December 5, Krampus comes to town with a naughty list. (This is the night before The Feast of St. Nicholas which is celebrated in parts of Europe on December 6.) He often uses branches or sticks to whip local children for behaving badly.
Here’s video from ViralHog, shot in 2018 in Reutte, Tyrol, Austria. As the site says, “This so-called Krampus is a really creepy creature, with goat skins, loud cowbells, a whip, a lot of fire and noise and especially a head that is in-between a male-goat and a devil. They often look like creatures from hell or Uruk-Hai Orks from The Lord of the Rings.”
The video below from video comes from the 2016 Krampus Parade where people dressed up as Krampus creatures and walked the streets in the Czech Republic.
Not Always Fun & Frights
It hasn’t always been fun and games though. A Krampus festival in Austria got out of hand in 2015 when at least one of the actors began beating people with the sticks. Five teens sustained injuries.
“My daughter now has a cast on her right hand, both her feet are covered with welts and are swollen and bloody,” an angry parent told the local newspaper. “This violence has nothing to do with tradition.”
Krampus had origins in pagan traditions in Germany, where he was originally one of the sons of Hel, the Norse god of the underworld, according to Smithsonian magazine.
Since Krampus was so downright terrifying — especially to those who were not familiar with the festival — officials in one Austrian community visited newly settled Syrian and Iraqi refugees to let them know “what to expect when St. Nicholas and the Krampus creatures knock on their door,” social worker Nicole Kranebitter told NBC News.
She said the newcomers had “lots of fun” with the celebration.