Have you seen Krampus, the 2015 Universal Pictures movie, or just heard of the anti-Santa Claus and wondered where this story really came from?
This fear-inducing tradition and folklore of Krampus has now become almost synonymous with Christmas time, and became a part of Christian winter celebrations in the 17th century Europe as well as other religions’ winter traditions, although it is suspected to be from the 16th century. This gruesome being is usually described as half-goat and half-demon with the bottom half often portrayed as two hooved and furry legs and the top having a human torso, two human arms, two horns coming out of his skull and a gnarly tongue. Krampus is described as doing many frightening things to ill behaving children during Christmas time including whipping them, stealing their presents, stealing the children themselves, throwing the children into icy rivers, or just eating them alive. Krampus is thought to be the Horned God of Pagan Witches, the Anti- Santa Claus, and the demon of Christmas.
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This tradition is celebrated in many different ways, often the night of December 5th, and would include drunk or rowdy people wearing Krampus masks. Some European countries have gold painted twigs that are left around the house throughout the whole year to remind children that Krampus will come for those who misbehave. In smaller and more isolated European villages, St. Nicholas is taken out of the equation in total and replaced with even more spooky creatures to terrify children with. In Northern Italy, Krampus comes out of his cave right before sunset to chase and whip children who then must recite a prayer to get him to leave. In more tourist-friendly traditions, often popular in areas with tourist-drawing Christmas markets, Krampus is portrayed as much more of a humorous spirit than a fearsome demon.
Krampus celebrations are rising in popularity in North America with celebrations like Krampuslauf, where participants dress like Krampus and walk through the streets with noisemakers.
The tradition of Krampus is not just for spooking children into good behavior however. Many people love the dash of morbid in the otherwise overly cheery and whimsical time. Going against the grain to celebrate this dark twist on St. Nicholas can be really fun for everyone involved. People spend months hand-making their Krampus intricate masks and costumes or even scrubbing and bleaching bones for an extra spooky addition to their ensemble. Then they gather and celebrate this centuries-old tradition together in festivals and walks around town.