Bad Santa: The Austrian Legend of the Krampus

While most who celebrate Christmas await the visit of Santa Claus, with his good cheer, girth and gifts, fewer are familiar with the darker side of Christmas, stemming from Germanic-Austrian tradition.  Practiced in Austria, southern Bavaria, South Tyrol, Northern Fruili, Hungary, Slovenia, the Czech Repulbic, the Slovak Republic and Croatia, individuals dress up as the Krampus to represent the demonic mythical creature and scare children into good behavior.

 krampus 1

                Dichotomies such as old Saint Nicholas and the Krampus are common to ancient Christian myths blended with pagan elements; the Janice-face of heaven and hell, rewarding the good and punishing the bad, weaves itself seamlessly through Christian tradition, and especially in Germanic folklore.  The bestial figure is often portrayed accompanying Santa Claus, working as a sort of dynamic duo of good and evil, pursuing a strange form of vigilante Christmas justice. According to the legend, the Krampus comes for the naughty children while Kris Kringle  rewards the good; the bad children are taken from their homes and weeping mothers, captured by the Krampus in a large sack, taken back to its lair and devoured alive.  Originally, the Krampus tradition was considered subversive to the Catholic Church, and in discouraging it, the Church made attempts during the Inquisition to erase its pagan influence.  However, the Krampus continues as a long-standing tradition from Norse mythology and fulfills Janus-faced Christmas promises for many today.

Krampus 2

-Bridget Healy



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