Krampus of Alpine Folklore
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What can be said about Krampus that hasn't already been said?
Krampus is one of the more well-documented supernatural creatures I've encountered, which makes it tough to dig up something new about him. It's just a good thing for us that, like nearly every other thing I write about, Krampus articles out there on the Internet seem to be mostly copied and pasted from Wikipedia in an attempt to drive search traffic to ad-infested blogs, which almost always means that I can research and write about the more obscure intricacies of frightening folklore.
It also means that the topic is ripe for fiction opportunities.
Old Nick's New Tricks
Snow crunched under hefty black boots, leaving a fresh icy trail next to cloven hoof prints that disappeared into the dimly lit suburban streets.
A thick blanket of fresh powder rested on homes and cars, trees and shrubs, mailboxes and blinking lawn decorations, softening the sharp edges and angles of the entire neighborhood into rolling mounds and hills that sparkled in the moonlight. Scattered snowflakes hung in the air, suspended like a photo of a swirling snow globe. The two-story homes with short driveways and narrow yards huddled together so closely that it was impossible to tell where the Christmas lights of one ended and another began.
"Thou art late," a deep voice from a shadowed figure said from a rooftop.
"Oh, boo hoo hoo," Santa said as he took hold of the rope dangling by the front porch. "You know how hard it is to read green street signs with a red nose light? Things were easier when there weren't so many addresses." He grunted as he tugged the rope with both hands. "Or so many damned people." Santa sucked in his belly two sizes smaller and started to climb. When he reached the top, a fur-covered hand grasped his forearms and hoisted him onto the roof. "Krampus," Santa said with a nod.
"Nicholas," Krampus said, nodding back. "Wherefore not bringeth thy sl'd upon the roof?"
"Blitzen's got a stick up his ass from too many close calls with slick solar panels."
"Po'r creature." Krampus stepped into the pulsing lights of an inflatable nativity scene and scratched one of his horns with the tips of his obsidian claws. "What shalt we doth h're?"
"Beats me. I can't even make out street numbers. And all that light pollution from their gaudy garbage"—Santa motioned at a candy cane the size of a two-car garage that had toppled over, its light piercing through a foot of snow covering it—"makes it hard to see anything anyway. On top of that, no one leaves their porch lights on for Christmas because Amazon doesn't deliver. Ingrates." Santa sighed. "Here"—he withdrew a folded paper from his jolly jacket and shoved it at Krampus, sending a pocket of suspended snowflakes into a flurry of motion—"you try working the cursed thing for once."
"Thee knoweth I cannot." Krampus held up both hands, shaking his head. "Tis thy night." He reached into a burlap sack on his back and pulled out a bundle of birch twigs tied together with twine. "Bid me, who is't is naughty, and I shalt doth mine own job."
"Far as I'm concerned, they can all go to Hell." Santa snatched the bundle of twigs and started up the slope toward the roof's ridge. After a few steps, he stopped, his arms falling limply at his sides. The bundle of twigs dropped from his fingers and tumbled into the snow. "Does no one have a chimney anymore?"
"Thou art truly fusty, mine own cousin," Krampus slapped Santa's shoulder. "Waiteth til thee seeth what hags art flying 'round these days."
Santa grumbled, reaching into the front of his pants. A moment later, his hand emerged, gripping a long wooden handle with a thick steel wedge of a blade. "Better watch out." He chuckled, low and menacing, as he raised the axe overhead. "I'm not coming to town. I'm already here."
Well, that was fun. I banged out that piece of fiction one night to illustrate a few interesting points about Krampus mythology. Let's take a look.
Krampus: The Man, The Myth, The Legend
There have been many reimaginings of Krampus over the years, particularly in the past few decades of film and TV, but for the most part, they all depict Krampus as an anthropomorphic man with long animal-like fur, cloven hooves, and horns similar to a goat.
The legends around Krampus come from Alpine folklore—the Alps in Europe—the tallest and largest mountain range that lies entirely within European boundaries. Evidence of humans living in the area goes back at least 5,000 years ago.
The night of December 5th is known as "Krampusnacht." The word Krampusnacht comes from "Krampus" and "Nacht"—"Nacht" means "night" in German and Dutch. Here's how to pronounce "Krampusnacht" with an authentic German accent.
Krampusnacht, on December 5th, precedes The Feast of St. Nicholas, celebrated on December 6th. And, as you may already know or might have guessed, "Santa Claus" derives his name from Saint Nicholas of Myra. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of children (and pawnbrokers, by the way). It is said that "little is known about the historical Saint Nicholas," but I suppose that's relative, considering he has a giant Wikipedia page. At this point, most people are probably aware that old tales of Santa Claus say that he visits every home at night and gives gifts to good children and lumps of coal to bad ones.
On the night of December 6th (I'm guessing after Saint Nicholas arrives fashionably late to the gift or coal party because Krampus showed up a day earlier), the two go around and visit people's homes together. Traditionally, Saint Nicholas gives good children modest gifts like fruit and nuts (sorry, new iPhones are "modest") and leaves dealing with the naughty kids to Krampus. Because of the whole mythology around Santa Claus keeping a list of naughty and nice children, Santa must be the boss of the duo and points Krampus at the bad kids so that Santa doesn't have to get his hands dirty.
Krampus beats naughty children with birch rods, kidnaps them by shoving them into a sack, and then carries them away to torture them before drowning some, eating others alive, and simply dropping others off in Hell, where they burn for eternity. I don't know about you, but that sounds like a pretty harsh punishment for not raking the leaves or forgetting to wash the dishes one night. This entire thing raises the question of how precisely Santa determines naughty vs. nice. Naughty and nice, good and evil, these concepts are not universal. Not only that but "Saint Nicholas was recognized as a saint long before the Roman Catholic Church began regularizing canonization procedures in the late 10th century."
So, not even the Catholic Church, which, of course, is well known for its infallible moral compass, is in control of the whims of Saint Nicholas during his annual visit to pass judgment upon every child on earth. I've also wondered for a while if Santa Claus has a team of elves that keeps up with the everchanging laws surrounding what constitutes a "legal adult" because he seems to be only interested in judging children. And, if he doesn't keep up with the laws, is it possible that in some parts of the world, the local government has declared that a person is old enough to drink and vote, but Santa didn't get the memo and directs Krampus to drag them off to Hell because they were in the supermarket and covertly popped a grape in their mouth without paying for it?
More on that philosophical issue here: Can Santa Know Who's Naughty or Nice?
The tales of Krampus actually go back to longstanding pagan traditions from peoples in the Alps, which the Catholic Church tried unsuccessfully to stamp out, eventually relenting and instead incorporating some of the rituals and iconography into the Catholic Church's own holidays. You know, like they did with Christmas...and Easter...oh, and New Year's, Valentine's, Lent, the Feast of All Saints, and a bunch of other things. Did I mention wedding ceremonies?
Learn More About Krampus
Like I said at the beginning of this, Krampus is one of the more well-documented supernatural creatures I've encountered, so I'll just drop some links here for more reading:
- History Channel's Meet Krampus, the Christmas Devil Who Punishes Naughty Children
- National Geographic's Who is Krampus? Explaining the horrific Christmas beast
- Smithsonian Magazine's The Origin of Krampus, Europe's Evil Twist on Santa
- 9 Facts About Krampus, St. Nick's Demonic Companion, presented by Mental Floss
- And The Darker Side of Christmas: The Origins and History of Krampusnacht over at History Defined
Merry Sol Invictus, Everyone!
Relevant & Related
- 9 Books About Krampus and Other Holiday Horrors
- My Christmas-themed retro horror novella, Night of the Living Cake Monsters: A Retro Creature Feature, and its fancy video book trailer with that voice-over guy you've definitely heard before on television.
- Dozens of Krampus books to add to your reading list.
- A great list of Krampus movies to watch anytime during the year
- A little flash fiction reverse poem video I made in 2021 about Santa and Krampus: A Holiday Poem
- For a strange legend unrelated to Christmas but still somewhat close to the Alps, my article The True Story of Arnold Paole, Vampire of Meduegna, Serbia.
- And, of course, let me introduce you (if I haven't already) to The Vast Satanic Conspiracy, whereby Satan seized a holiday and is masquerading around as this supposed Santa figure in order to corrupt us all. Even more at Santa is Satan (complete with Biblical references) and also The Young Turks Is Santa Satan? (Spoiler: yep. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled wasn't convincing the world that he didn't exist; it was putting on a red suit and ho-ho-ho-ing his way into shopping malls, homes, and hearts every single year.)