Please meet Krampus, Santa Claus’ shadow. Krampus is horrific beast that is half-demon and half-goat who, literally, beats children up from naughty to nice. Krampus isn’t exactly what you expect for Christmas, I assure you. Dark long fur, horns and fangs, this creature is St. Nicholas’ shadow and it comes with a chain and cow-bells that he whip about, along with a bunch of birch sticks meant to hit naughty children. It then kidnaps the bad kids and take them down to the underworld.
During the days that we were exploring Hall in Tirol, we had the amazing opportunity to watch Krampus doing its thing in a village up in the mountains of Austria. And, as you can see in the video below, it was amazing! There were so many people dressed up around us and they were not as friendly as we expected them to be. They whipped the ground, stole gloves and hats from people and we loved every second of it!
We can only ask ourselves: What are the origins of this “Christmas beast”?
Krampus, whose name comes from the German word krampen (claw), is said to be the son of Hel in Norse mythology. This mythical creature also shares characteristics with other creepy, frightening, demonic beings in Greek mythology, including fauns and satyrs.
The legend is part of a very old Christmas tradition in Germanic countries, where Christmas is celebrated in the begin of December.
Krampus was created as a counterpart to kindly St. Nicholas, or how some call it, Santa Claus. St Nicholas rewarded children with sweets and Krampus would hit wicked and naughty children, give them coal and take them away to his lair.
According to folklore, Krampus shows up in towns and villages the night before the 6th of December, known as Krampusnacht (Krampus Night). But it is not like this everywhere; we had the pleasure to see this happening in a small village next to Hall in Tirol, Austria, on the night of the 28th of November. Since Krampus is very popular in the Alpine region of Tirol, they need more than just one night.
They take over the streets for a Krampuslauf (Krampus Run) when people are chased through the streets by the beasts. Another version that happens – and the one we’ve experienced – was a some sort of competition of all the krampus from all the villages. Everybody get together to watch the show and each village has its team to represent them.
If you’re into obscure and curious traditions from all over the world, Tirol is the place to be on your next krampusnacht. But “Why scare the kids with an evil, demonic, pagan monster?” you ask me.
Maybe it’s a way for humans to get in touch with their animalistic side, maybe it’s just respect for pre-Christian tradition. Honestly, I don’t know. And I don’t care because it was by far the best night of my life.
A bit more about the modern history of Krampus
Krampus’ daunting presence was censored for years and years. The Catholic Church banned the rough celebrations and the fascists in WWII thought that the poor Krampus was despicable. The fascists also shunned the beast away because it was considered a creation of the Social Democrats.
But Krampus is back now. Stronger than ever. Krampus even have a Hollywood movie about it but we never saw it. Even in United States the folks are getting into the trend with Krampus parties. It is here to stay.
In Austria is you can find chocolates, postcards, figurines, and collectible horns. Krampus was everywhere in Hall in Tirol and I bought everything! Looks like Santa might have some competition.
Fotostrasse was in Hall in Tirol enjoying everything about Krampuslauf by invitation from Hall-Wattens Tourism Board. Our trip was sponsored by OBB and you should travel through Austria by train.