Krampus, the counterpart to St. Nicholas, is presented as a goat-like demon figure, similar to satyrs and fauns of Greek mythology, who punishes children for being bad by hitting them, stuffing them in a bag, and shipping them away.
According to folklore, Krampus shows up on the night of December 5th – known as Krampusnacht or Krampus Night. The next morning, children wake up and look outside their door to see if the shoe or boot they’d left out the night before contains presents (a reward for good behavior) or a rod or twigs (for bad behavior).
Considered by some as “Halloween for adults,” many in Austria, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, and even the United States, dress up as the demon, get drunk, and chase people down the streets, especially children.
As we have previously discussed, the European practice of mummery during the winter solstice season can be traced back tens of thousands of years. Villagers across the continent dress up as animals, wild-men, and mythic figures to parade and perform humorous plays. This ancient guising and masking tradition continues to this day as the primary source for our modern Halloween with its costumes, trick-or-treat, and pagan symbolism.
Among the most common figures in these folk rituals were Old Man Winter and the horned Goat-Man — archetypes now found in the forms of Saint Nick/Santa Claus, and the Devil (‘Old Nick’), aka Krampus.
The origin of Krampus is mostly unknown, but most anthropologists agree that the tradition is pre-Christian, going back to pagan mythology. One authority on the subject believes that Krampus goes as far back as the Wiccan deity of the Horned God of the Witches. Another anthropologist, John J. Honigmann wrote, “Krampus derives from a pagan supernatural who was assimilated to the Christian devil.”
For years, Krampus was suppressed by the Catholic Church, which forbade raucous celebrations in the demon’s name. During World War II, Europe’s fascists deplored Krampus as a creation of the Social Democrats Despite this, the demon is making a comeback in his homeland. Austrian retailers are attempting to soften Krampus’s persona by selling chocolates, figurines, and collectible horns.
Do you celebrate Krampusnacht? We would love to hear more.