Krampus, the Christmas Devil
The legend of the Krampus dates back centuries, originating as a German Christmas tradition during the 12th century. Beginning in early December, the children of Germany would begin to hear whispers of a dark haired creature bearing horns and fangs, carrying a bundle of birch sticks used to swat naughty children. According to traditional narratives of Alpine folklore, the Krampus would enter the towns, lashing his chains and bells, to capture the bad children in a basket and bring them down to the underworld. The Krampusnacht (Krampus Night) would occur the evening before December 6th (St. Nicholas Day), when the nice German children were rewarded with presents in their boots.
Children might have also seen Krampus running through the street during a Krampuslauf—literally, a “Krampus run.” If Krampusnacht was a way to scare kids into behaving themselves, the Krampuslauf, which isn’t tied to a specific day, was a way for grown men to blow off steam while probably still scaring kids. Austrian men would get drunk and run through the streets dressed as the fearsome creature. Like Krampusnacht, the Krampuslauf tradition continues to the present day.
So this holiday season, when someone greets you with “Merry Christmas,” feel free to respond with “Merry Christmas to you. . . And may Krampus not take your child away in a basket!”