krampus history

Krampus is a beast-like creature of Alpine folklore, threatening to punish misbehaved children in the Christmas season - in contrast with St. Nicholas, who rewards the well-behaved ones with gifts on Dec 6. According to tradition, Krampus captures particularly naughty children in his sack and carries them away to his lair. Young men dress up as Krampus in Bavaria, Austria, South Tyrol and Friuli in Italy, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Romania, and Croatia on the evening of Dec 5 and roam the streets frightening children with rusty bells and chains. St. Nicholas became popular in Germany around the 11th century. Masked devils acting boisterously are known since at least the 16th century while animal masked devils combining dreadful-comic antics appeared in Medieval church plays. Krampus may derive from a pagan supernatural being who was assimilated to the Christian devil. By the 17th century, he had been incorporated into winter celebrations by pairing him with St. Nicholas in a “good versus evil” control mechanism. More recently, there’s been a discussion if the Krampus figure is appropriate for children. He carries bells and chains to symbolize the binding of the Devil by the Christian Church, and thrashes them for dramatic effect. Of pagan origins are the Ruten, bundles of birch branches that Krampus carries and occasionally swats people with. Sometimes he appears with a sack or a washtub strapped to his back to cart off evil children. St. Nicholas concerns himself only with the good, while Krampus is responsible for the bad. Nicholas dispenses gifts; Krampus supplies coal and Ruten. In the Krampuslauf, celebrants dressed as the beasts have a race, usually fueled by alcohol. It’s customary to offer Krampus schnapps, a strong distilled fruit brandy. These runs may include perchten, similarly wild pagan spirits of Germanic folklore, who are sometimes female. The Krampus figure often is more humorous than frightening and mostly appears in South German areas only.