He’s known in Alpine countries variously as Krampus, Klaubauf, Bartl, and Wubartl, a beast-like, half-goat, half-demon creature that takes over where Santa left off (think of Krampus as the anti-Santa). While Saint Nicholas rewards well-behaved boys and girls with gifts, Krampus captures naughty kids, places them in his oversized-sack, and carries them away to his lair or worse, hell. Traditionally, each year during the Christmas season, men in Austria, Bavaria, Germany, Hungary, Czech Republic, and Croatia dress up in frightening elaborate Krampus costumes and roam the streets looking for small kids to chase, scare, and beat with sticks.
The history of the Krampus creature dates back to pre-Christian Germanic traditions and likely originates from well-known tales about St. Nicholas’ battle with the devil. He is sometimes said to be the son of Hel, from Norse mythology, but he also shares appearances, including goat-like ears, legs, feet, with the satyrs of Greek mythology.
Thinking the celebration of a demonic creature might not be good for kids (duh), the early Catholic Church discouraged celebrations based around the creepy goat-like creatures, and during the Inquisition efforts were made to stamp out the celebrations for good. As late as the 1950’s, in Austria, the government attempted to stop the tradition and distributed pamphlets titled “Krampus is an Evil Man” to all citizens. Alas, Krampus celebrations persisted despite their efforts.
Although Krampus appears in many variations, most share some common physical characteristics. He is typically portrayed as a hairy, demon-like creature with cloven hooves and the twisted horns of a goat. Krampus typically carries chains, thought to symbolize the binding of the Devil by the Christian Church, which he rattles about for dramatic effect. In addition to chains, bundles of birch branches (or occasionally a simple whip) are carried which are used to occasionally swat the naughty children with. More disturbingly, Krampus usually appears with a sack or a washtub strapped to his back which he uses to cart off evil children for drowning, eating, or transport to Hell.
If the description alone is not enough to scare the living daylights out of you, check out the pictures of Krampus creatures below the break.