Origin of Krampus

Origin of Krampus

Elena Keller

The idea that jolly, old St. Nick has an evil twin has fascinated people for centuries. The devilish half-man, half-goat known as Krampus has terrorized naughty children every Christmas, chasing them and stuffing them in his sack.


According to History.com, Krampus originated in Austria’s Alpine region as a figure in the pagan celebration of the winter solstice. His name comes from the German word “krampen” which means claw, and legend has it that he’s the son of the Norse god of the Underworld.


The Catholic Church tried to eradicate the legend of Krampus because of his resemblance to the devil, but any attempts to eliminate the tradition were futile. So while St. Nick is giving gifts to children, Krampus is hunting the naughty ones down and doling out punishments.


According to The Smithsonian, Krampus’ favorite punishment is to beat naughty children with birch branches. Some misbehaving children will even disappear, carried off in Krampus’ sack to be tortured or eaten.


The day Krampus comes to punish children is known as Krampusnacht, or “Krampus night,” when parents dress up as Krampus to scare children in their homes. There is also an event called Krampuslauf, or “Krampus run,” where drunk Austrian men would dress up in fur suits and wooden masks and chase children in the streets. 


Both Krampusnacht and Krampuslauf are still celebrated in Austria to this day. There has also been a resurgence of the legend in Germany, Slovenia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and even the United States.


The legend of Krampus was first introduced to America in 2004 when graphic designer Monte Beauchamp published a book of Krampus postcards. Since then Krampus has become a notable pop culture figure, even starring in his own movie in 2015, aptly named “Krampus.” 


So while children are waiting for Santa Claus to bring gifts, they’re dreading the return of Krampus lest they are found naughty this holiday season.