History Uncovered Episode 54:
Krampus, The Terrifying Christmas Demon

Published September 29, 2023

A half-goat demon said to be the son of the Norse god of the underworld, Krampus punishes naughty children at Christmastime — and drags some to hell.

Each December, countless children around the world excitedly await the arrival of Santa Claus. If they’ve been well-behaved, he’ll reward them with gifts left in stockings or under the tree. If they’ve misbehaved, he might gently scold them with a lump of coal.

But it’s a slightly different story for children in places like Austria, where their version of Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, is accompanied by a terrifying assistant named Krampus who will punish naughty children in ways that go far beyond giving them coal.

A half-goat, half-demon beast, Krampus is said to have horns, a body covered in black hair, and a long, red, snake-like tongue. Unlike St. Nicholas, who might leave birch twigs in the shoes of children who’ve misbehaved, Krampus wields whole birch branches that he’ll use to beat anyone who’s been naughty. And that’s if they’re lucky — Krampus is also said to stuff bad children into his sack so that he can eat them or drag them to hell.

So where did the legend of Krampus come from?

Though the idea of a demon who attacks naughty children may seem un-Christmasy to some, the Krampus tradition is both ancient and beloved. Legend states that he may be the son of two Norse gods: Hel, the goddess of the underworld and the dead, and Loki, the god of mischief. His story was eventually folded into various pagan traditions and rites across Germanic countries in Europe.


Wikimedia CommonsIn Central Europe, Krampus cards like this one are often exchanged during the early days of December.

More than 1,000 years ago, pagan men would wear terrifying masks and run around their villages as a way to scare off winter ghosts. These costumes eventually came to represent mythological figures called Perchten, and Krampus is considered one of the Percht. But while many of the Percht were discarded during the Dark Ages, Krampus somehow lived on.

Today, this terrifying Christmas demon is recognized across multiple countries in Europe and has even made inroads in the United States in recent years. He’s appeared on TV shows like Supernatural and gotten his own Christmas movie with 2015’s Krampus. What’s more, some American cities, like L.A., have even held Krampus celebrations, and places like Washington, D.C. and New Orleans have hosted their own “Krampuslauf.”

This is the story of Krampus, the violent and terrifying Christmas villain who has delighted and horrified humanity since pagan times.

Dig deeper into the disturbing behind Krampus.

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