Creature Compendium

Creature Compendium: Krampus (Holiday Edition)

Since Christmas is coming up, the creature compendium is taking on a holiday spin. Did you know some stories say jolly old St. Nicholas has a devilish companion? Let me introduce you to Krampus:

Der Krampus

Krampus – Xmas Card by BrittMartin

The name Krampus comes from the Old High German word for claw (Krampen). One legend about the origin of Krampus says that a demon terrorized the region in winter time, and climbed down chimneys to steal away children to eat. A holy man (sometimes St. Nicholas) tricked the demon into magical/holy shackles, which forced it to obey his orders. To make up for his evil deeds, St. Nicholas forced him to deliver presents to children (instead of eating them).

Modern stories say that he accompanies St. Nicholas as he delivers his presents, and while gifts are left for the good children, it is said that Krampus will beat the naughty ones with his stick (or eat them).

On Dec. 5, the legend of Krampus is still recreated in Austria (Krampusnacht). Men dress up in goat hair costumes, adorned with cowbells, baskets, and bundles of sticks, with which to scare and switch people they find in the street.

Folktales:

Related creatures: demon, incubus

Region of Origin: Europe, Alpine region, Austria, Germany

I think if I grew up with stories of Krampus, Christmas would be a lot more frightening.

14 Comments

  1. A few thoughts on this:

    In French class we learned about “Pere Fouettard” (i.e. “The Whipping Father”), who accompanied “Pere Noel” around Christmas, and whipped the naughty children.

    Similar versions of St. Nick’s “companion” exist in several European cultures.

    When I was a child, I lived for a few years in Germany. We lived in a small German town on the banks of the Moselle River across from Luxembourg. Each year on December 6th, St. Nicholas would come down the river on a small boat and dock at the town square. The children would crowd around him and he would give out small treats to everyone. He was always accompanied by a man in a long black robe, his face covered in a dark beard, and on his back a basket full of large sticks.

    As a kid I never learned his proper name, but it was probably Knecht Ruprecht.

    Finally, I read a great short story recently that I heartily recommend, called “Christmas at Hostage Canyon” by James Stoddard. In it, Santa Claus plays a somewhat different role than what tradition holds. I won’t give away the story – though it’s worth the read if you can find it – but reading about Krampus definitely reminded me of that story.

    1. I encountered several other versions of St. Nicholas’ companions while doing research for this. It seems they’re similar in function to Krampus, and Pere Fouettard.

      I’ll see if I can find that story!

  2. Related article: Black Pete.

    Black Pete (or, Pierre Noir) is Santa’s sidekick, who, like Krampus, is the eviler side of Xmas and gives naughty children coal.

    I say, this is much more realistic than an ecumenical Santa who promises good things to good children, but no retribution for the naughty kids.

      1. I was never under the impression that Black Pete was evil as such – he’s a good really, just so happens he’s the one who hands out punishment. It’s like good cop, bad cop.

        Oh now there’s another story in there – St Nic and Black Pete have to solve a Christmas murder!

  3. Oh there are so many stories to spun off from this creature. I’m thinking “misguided youngster gets stolen away by the Krampus for bullying his younger brother – with the help of other kidnapped children, escapes, learns his lesson and brings an extra special Christmas present home for his brother. And of course a cameo appearance from St Nic somewhere near the end”.

    Right that’s me off to start writing…

  4. The picture captures the otherworldliness of this creature. I’m intrigued by the combination of religious overtones (St. Nicholas) and a demonic creature that possibly was involved in pre-christian beliefs.

      1. I’m not sure I found a reliable source, but I did find one that talked about the European practice of mummery (not what you’d think, the dressing up as wild-men, goats, old-man winter, etc. and parading through the village). They claim that this practice evolved into the current form of St. Nicholas and Krampus.

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