Many cultures have specific folk tales about Christmas, most of which whimsical and light hearted. But in central Europe certain traditions are rooted in ancient pagan origins, giving rise to dark legends of strange creatures. Such creatures tend to emerge only in mid winter. And for a brief period, terrorize their chosen victims, disappearing with the holiday season. Today we look at perhaps the scariest of them all. This is the story of Krampus.
Krampus The Monster
It is a terrible sight – a half goat humanoid demonic figure. Many of it’s physical features are disturbing. It’s sharp claws, tall horns, and unusually long tongue. Krampus has one cloven hoof and one human foot. He has a chain tied around his waist and glowing red eyes. In many ways he is the inverse of Santa clause, awakening at Christmas to punish poorly behaved children. That is his sole purpose. For most of the year he lies in hibernation, awaiting his chance to cause pain. Wandering the countryside of central Europe, he carries a large tree branch in one hand. With which he eagerly beats children. The measure of bad behavior dictates the punishment given by Krampus. Some will escape with only a few lashes. But others are beaten almost to death, or even abducted.
Often he is seen carrying a sack or basket to stuff children into and carry them off. Waking up to find their children missing, the only sign of Krampus will be the strange prints he left in the snow. But the trail soon dies out and no one is ever able to find the monster. Once abducted the fate of the child will be decided by Krampus. Perhaps he will throw them into a nearby lake, or eat them alive, or drag them to hell. The only sign Krampus is approaching is the sound of rattling chains in the distance. Slowly drawing nearer, few realize it’s cause until the beast has arrived. But even if you do it will be too late. Any adult to get between him and his victim will swiftly be killed, torn apart by it’s large claws.
Krampus The Myth
But still many try all kinds of methods to protect their children from Krampus. Some hang small twigs above their doorway, believing that would ward him off. It is unclear if this has any effect on him. Nor is it clear what the origin of Krampus is. It has been said he is the child of Satan and spends most of the year in hell. Most however say he is an ancient pagan relic, the last survivor of a race of evil creatures. According to folklore others of that race may have survived. Perhaps these others materialize as other Christmas monsters – like Belsnickel or Turon.
Krampus today is largely seen as a purely mythical figure. People in Austria even dress up as him in December. But in times gone by he was believed to be all too real. They believed his teeth were strong enough to bite through steel. That his tongue could elongate to ten feet, and his bright red eyes could be seen from miles away. It was in the 19th century that the fear associated with Krampus began to fade. Over time he was increasingly commercialized, and depicted more as a comical figure. People even exchanged Christmas cards bearing his image. To be honest I had no idea people had Christmas cards in those days, let alone ones depicting a creepy man-goat-beast. But that’s a topic for another day.
Every year millions of people are horrified to learn about Krampus. The pure disturbing nature of it contrasts with most other Christmas legends. And for that reason he will never be forgotten.