When I first heard Krampus referenced in the 2015 film of the same name, I had a feeling the legend referred to in the film was not dreamed up by a Hollywood screenwriter. It just seemed to old world to be the product of a modern imagination.
It turns out, Krampus, and the holiday dedicated to him, Krampusnatch, are part of holiday celebrations that orginate in alpine regions of Austria and Germany. Krampus is the hairy, horned companion of Saint Nicholas. Krampus is tasked with punishing misbehaving children with coal and bundles of sticks, while St. Nick rewards the well behaved ones with presents.
Originally part of pagan traditions, Krampus was folded into Christian holidays and Krampusnatch is celebrated the night of December 5th, before the feast of Saint Nicholas. The characteristics of Krampus varies, but he is usually described as being hairy, with the cloven hooves and horns of a goat. He typically wears chains and bells, with a long, pointed tongue lolling out and bared fangs.
For a period of time Krampusnatch celebrations were banned by fascist governments and the Catholic Church, but the tradition is enjoying a modern resurgence.
Want to get in on the fun? Here are a few ways to celebrate Krampusnatch:
1. Send Krampus Cards
Much like exchanging Christmas cards, sharing cards called Krampuskarten featuring the curled horns and long slithery tongue of Krampus is a Krampusnatch tradition.
2. Read Brom’s Krampus the Yule Lord
Brom’s version of the Krampus story transports the beast to West Virginia and pits him against a darker, edgier Saint Nicholas.
3. Watch a Krampus themed movie
There are more choices then you think! Other than the previously mentioned Krampus, you can also give the German film Rare Exports a try. There’s also the anthology film A Christmas Horror Story, which includes a Krampus story.
4. Attend a Krampus run
Once a tradition only practiced in Europe, Krampus runs are catching on in the US. Picture a bull run, but with rowdy men in Krampus costumes swinging chains and switches.
5. Use Krampus mythology as a writing prompt
Take a break from prompts about the smell of cookies baking and elves and try writing an edgier holiday piece. Here’s a list of prompts I came up with:
Horns and hooves
Greetings from Krampus
Chains and bells
The Yule Lord
He sees you when your sleeping