The horror movie Krampus comes to theatres on Friday, December 4, 2015. No, they didn’t just make up a funny name for the creature in the movie. The Krampus has been a part of European folklore for centuries. What exactly is the Krampus and why is it so scary? Here’s an overview of the legendary figure.
The word Krampus comes from the German word for claw: krampen. Krampus can best be described as the anti-St. Nicholas. He is a devil-like creature with origins in pre-Christian Norse mythology. The Krampus is typically a scary-looking demon with brown or black hair, horns, cloven hooves, and a long pointed tongue.
He also makes noise with chains and bells that he carries around with him. Oh, and he also carries birch branches to whip naughty children with. Which brings us to the Christmas connection. Krampus comes to town on Krampus Night (Krampusnacht), which is the night before St. Nicholas Day (Nikolaustag) on December 6th.
Children would traditionally leave shoes or boots outside the door for St. Nicholas to bring them presents and sweets. If they were good, they’d get presents, if they were bad, Krampus would either leave them a lump of coal, hit them with his branches, or even cart them off to Hell in a sack. It seems that adults have been scaring kids into behaving themselves for centuries!
In some European countries in modern times, men who have had a few drinks dress up as the Krampus and chase people around the streets, in an event called Krampuslauf. Europeans also exchange Christmas cards with pictures of the Krampus, called Krampuskarten.
Sounds like a lot of fun, actually. But it’s not too surprising that the Catholic Church banned Krampus festivities for years. Thankfully, Krampus celebrations are making a comeback lately, and the movie Krampus proves that the Christmas Devil is going mainstream in the U.S.