When I was planning my trip to Salzburg last year, I discovered a very interesting character that plays a huge part in Christmas tradition in Austria. And ironically enough, a couple months later, the movie Krampus hit theaters, giving more people a glimpse into the legend (although much more distorted, because Hollywood).
After experiencing a “Krampus Run” in Salzburg, I’m even more fascinated by Krampus, so in honor of St. Nicholas Day (tomorrow), here’s more on the legend of Krampus. It’s worth also mentioning quickly these things are pretty terrifying to look at so I hope you’re not reading this before bed!
Who is Krampus?
Krampus is essentially the Christmas devil, for lack of a better phrase. He comes the night before St. Nicholas Day on Krampusnacht (Krampus Night) to “take care of” kids on the naughty list (i.e. hauling them off to the underworld with them) before St. Nicholas’ arrival on December 6. With horns, dark hair, fangs, and chains and bells, this is NOT the guy you want showing up for Christmas!
The Origin of Krampus
No one knows when exactly the legend of Krampus begun, but it’s been a part of the Christmas tradition in Germany, Austria, and other European countries for centuries (before Christianity even began)! The legend was created to encourage good behavior in children and some say Krampus could even be Santa’s evil twin and that the two represent the balance between good/evil and light/dark! Krampus also shares many characteristics of scary, demonic creatures in Greek mythology, so it seems inspiration was definitely drawn from there when this folk story was created!
Doesn’t this one look like a White Walker from Game of Thrones?!
While St. Nicholas (Santa) gets most of the attention these days, the legend of Krampus isn’t forgotten. Several Christmas markets in Austria and Germany include a “Krampus Run,” where people dressed as Krampus run through the market alongside St. Nicholas, coming after who’s not on St. Nicholas’ approved list. All in good fun, of course.
Bonus note: If you’re considering a trip to Salzburg, I HIGHLY recommend visiting during Christmastime. Seeing the Krampus Run in person was a sight to see! There was a 45-minute show involved as well, including St. Nicholas, angels, a family (all of who fortunately were on the good list), and of course, a TON of Krampus’. In fact, there seemed to be several different clubs/people from different regions who each represented a different style Krampus (several of which you can see in this post)! It was one of the coolest cultural things I’ve seen and experienced!
Happy St. Nicholas Day (tomorrow) to those of you who celebrate! I hope St. Nicholas brings you some great treats and that you’re not visited by Krampus on this Krampusnacht!