In the US we have the tradition that if children behave, Santa will bring them toys. If they don’t behave, Santa will bring them coal. In Germany there is a similar tradition but instead of having one person, Santa, giving out everything, you have two people, St. Nicholas giving out toys, and his companion Krampus, giving out coal.
Krampus is an anthropomorphic character that is “half-goat” and “half-demon. While St. Nicholas rewards children that have good behavior with sweets and presents, Krampus punishes misbehaved children.
According to an article published by Maurice Bruce in 1958, belief is that the history of the Krampus goes back to pre-Christian Alpine traditions.
What does Krampus look like? There are multiple different variations of Krampus, but the majority of them share some similar characteristics which include: brown or black hairy fur, cloven hooves and horns similar to those of a goat and they have on a frightening mask with a pointed tongue and fangs. In their Hand Krampus’s carry a chain or whip which they thrash for dramatic, and very frightening, effect. The chain is supposed to symbolize the binding of the devil in the Christian Church. Luckily the chains are usually accompanied by different sized bells, making it easy to hear a Krampus approaching. In folklore it is said that the Krampus also carries around a sack in which he throws the naughty children.
As you may already know on December 6th parts of Europe, including Austria and Germany, celebrate St. Nicholas Day. The night before, December 5th, is Krampus night on which you can find multiple Krampus’s walking around the Towns and Christmas Markets.
When I’m not in Washington DC I live and go to school in Passau, a small city in Bavaria, Germany. Last December I got to experience Krampus night when a friend and I decided to stop by the Christmas Market on our way back from class.
As we were walking down the street we heard bells behind us and after thinking about it for a bit we remembered it was Krampus Night. Both of us were not looking forward to being scared by these very frightening creatures so we quickly walked to the Christmas Market hoping to avoid the “Krampuslauf”, essentially the Krampus’s parading through town.
The Christmas market was essentially the finishing line for the “Krampuslauf” so after enjoying our Bratwurst we were surrounded by Krampus’s in all sizes. The age range of the Krampus’s was about 6 years old to 60 years old. Although still frightening it was interesting to see such young children dressed up as such a scary character. We tried to get over our fear by taking a picture with them and after seeing some of them not wearing their mask they weren’t as frightening. But still, if I’m walking around Passau next year on December 5th and I hear bells, I would probably speed walk the other direction.
Written by Elena Osiander