The story of Krampus, the shadow of Saint Nicholas

The story of Krampus, the shadow of Saint Nicholas

Ian Chaddock

BY Ian Chaddock

21st Dec 2023 Christmas

3 min read

While Saint Nicholas (or Santa Claus) is full of festive cheer and benevolence, his opposite is a horned, demonic creature from European folklore who will punish (or even kidnap!) naughty children
As we embrace the holiday season, the air becomes filled with festive cheer and anticipation. Amidst the jingling bells and twinkling lights, there lurks a figure that stands in stark contrast to the benevolent spirit of Santa Claus—Krampus.]
This horned, anthropomorphic creature has carved a unique niche in the folklore of various European cultures, embodying the darker side of the Yuletide season. Join us as we unravel the mysterious and fascinating story of Krampus.

History of Krampus

The origins of Krampus can be traced back to Alpine folklore, particularly in regions of Austria, Bavaria and parts of Eastern Europe. The name "Krampus" is believed to have derived from the Old High German word "krampen," meaning claw. Krampus is often depicted as a demonic creature with cloven hooves, horns protruding from his head, and a long, pointed tongue. The creature is said to accompany Saint Nicholas during the Christmas season, serving as his sinister counterpart.
"Krampus is often depicted as a demonic creature who accompanies Saint Nicholas as his sinister counterpart"
The legend of Krampus involves him punishing naughty children, contrasting the reward of gifts bestowed by Saint Nick on well-behaved ones. According to tradition, Krampus would visit homes on the night of December 5, known as Krampusnacht, to dispense coal and small gifts to the deserving and administer a stern warning to those who had misbehaved.

Relationship to Saint Nicholas

Saint Nicholas and Krampus visiting a child at Christmas
Krampus shares a peculiar relationship with the jolly old man in the red suit, Santa Claus. While Santa rewards good behaviour with gifts, Krampus is the enforcer of discipline for those who have strayed from the path of niceness. In some traditions, Krampus is said to carry a sack or a basket to haul away misbehaving children.
The dual nature of this Christmas duo represents the age-old struggle between good and evil, emphasising the consequences of one's actions. The juxtaposition of Santa's generosity and Krampus' punitive role adds depth to the holiday narrative, reminding children that virtue is to be cherished and misconduct has repercussions.

Places that celebrate Krampus

A Krampus Run
The celebration of Krampus has transcended its Alpine roots, finding a place in various communities around the world. In Austria, the Krampuslauf (or Krampus Run), is a lively parade where participants don elaborate Krampus costumes and masks, taking to the streets with menacing merriment. Similar celebrations have sprouted in Germany, Hungary, Slovenia and even in parts of the United States.
"The Krampuslauf (Krampus Run) is a lively parade of costumed participants and menacing merriment"
The Krampus tradition has become an immersive experience for many, with festivals featuring music, performances, and the opportunity for locals and tourists alike to witness the frightful spectacle of Krampus in action. These celebrations not only pay homage to folklore but also offer a unique and thrilling way to embrace the darker side of the holiday season.

Krampus in pop culture

In recent years, Krampus has stepped out of the shadows of folklore and into the spotlight of popular culture. Numerous films, books and even dedicated events have showcased the dark allure of this Yuletide creature. Hollywood brought Krampus to the big screen with the 2015 film Krampus, blending horror and comedy to create a new holiday classic.
"The 2015 film 'Krampus' blended horror and comedy to create a new, macabre holiday classic"
Krampus has also made appearances in various television shows, comic books and holiday-themed merchandise. The creature's image is often used to add a touch of macabre to the festive season, appealing to those who enjoy a darker, more unconventional take on Christmas.

The future of Krampus

As the legend of Krampus continues to captivate audiences worldwide, it is clear that this horned entity has firmly embedded itself in the culture of the holiday season. The future of Krampus appears promising, with ongoing celebrations, artistic interpretations, and perhaps even new additions to the folklore.
In an era where traditional holiday narratives are constantly evolving, Krampus provides a refreshing departure from the saccharine sweetness of conventional Christmas tales. Whether through continued celebrations, innovative artistic expressions or further adaptations in popular culture, Krampus is likely to remain a fixture in our collective Yuletide consciousness for years to come.

Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by 
subscribing to our weekly newsletter

This post contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you. Read our disclaimer

Loading up next...