Unpacking Krampus: Santa's Evil Partner In Crime

Nothing gets people in the holiday spirit like a good ol' story about a demon who is best friends with Santa and drags children to Hell. Krampus is easily one of the most terrifying Christmas creatures in existence. According to legends that date back to the twelfth century, at Christmas, Krampus appears with a bundle of birch sticks and a basket. If you’ve been bad, he beats you. If you’ve been very bad, he stuffs you in the basket and carries you down to Hell. 

Just like creepy fairy tales where the Little Mermaid kills herself and the Frog Prince gets thrown against the wall, the Krampus legend has terrified children for centuries. He’s part demon, part goat, and all evil. 

Is Krampus real? In Austria, he appears every December 5th as part of a terrifying ritual. Hundreds of people dress up in costumes and then what does Krampus do? He beats strangers and terrorizes children. And this Christmas tradition isn’t only practiced in central Europe - in the last few years, Americans have also started to dress as Krampus. And even though Krampus has been banned multiple times, he just keeps coming back.

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  • Krampus Is A Not-So-Friendly Christmas Demon
    Photo: MatthiasKabel / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

    Krampus Is A Not-So-Friendly Christmas Demon

    Jolly Old Saint Nick loves bringing toys for children at Christmas, but his buddy Krampus is a whole different matter. 

    There’s no mistaking Krampus for Santa. Krampus is a demon, known for his mangled, demonic face and his furry black body. Giant horns sprout from his head, because Krampus isn’t 100% demon - he’s also half goat. And just like Satan, Krampus loves to scare people.

  • Santa And Krampus Play Good Cop, Bad Cop
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Santa And Krampus Play Good Cop, Bad Cop

    Santa and Krampus are actually good friends. They team up in December to make sure that children behave - or else Krampus will drag them down to Hell. It's a slightly different take on the whole "coal in your stocking" thing.

    Dating back to the seventeenth century, Santa and Krampus have played good cop, bad cop with children across central Europe. Krampus is the “scared straight” one of the pair. He terrifies children into behaving with threats of bodily harm and kidnapping. You know, typical Christmas stuff. Once kids were on the straight and narrow, Santa would appear to shower them with presents. 

  • Krampus Carries A Bundle Of Birch Sticks To Beat Kids
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Krampus Carries A Bundle Of Birch Sticks To Beat Kids

    The whole point of Krampus was to terrify young children into behaving. And one of the most important tools Krampus uses to intimidate children is his bundle of birch sticks, which he usually carries on his back. When Krampus spots a naughty child, he’ll pull out the birch sticks and start swinging.

    Krampus sometimes even left behind a bundle of birch sticks to remind children that he lurked everywhere. A 1958 article about the Krampus legend in southeast Austria claimed that Krampus delivered gold-painted bundles of sticks to children. Families would hang them on the wall to remind kids to follow the rules. 

  • Krampus Also Carries Chains Just To Be Even More Terrifying
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Krampus Also Carries Chains Just To Be Even More Terrifying

    Images of Krampus often show him with broken chains around his feet. These chains may symbolize the binding of demons by the Christian Church. Krampus thrashes his chains at children, showing them that no chains can bind him. 

    The chains also fit with the yin and yang relationship between Saint Nicholas and Krampus. Saint Nicholas represents the Church and everything holy, while Krampus is his demonic counterpart. The chains are a visual reminder that Christianity has the power to hold back demons - or the power to let them roam free.

  • Krampus Stuffs Children In His Sack To Drag Them Back To Hell
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Krampus Stuffs Children In His Sack To Drag Them Back To Hell

    In addition to carrying birch sticks to whip children, Krampus often appears with a sack or a basket strapped to his back. But this sack isn’t for carrying presents - it’s to kidnap naughty children.

    If a child was particularly bad, Krampus might stuff him into the basket and drag him down to Hell. Alternately, Krampus could transport the child in a sack to drown him in a lake or eat him. Either way, it’s a long way from Santa’s sack of presents.

  • Krampus Even Drags Babies To Hell – Merry Christmas!
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Krampus Even Drags Babies To Hell – Merry Christmas!

    Krampus doesn't just focus on naughty boys and girls. He even attacks babies. In this image, Krampus is shown dragging nine babies down to Hell on his bundle of twigs, riding it like a flying broomstick. And sure, some babies can be pretty naughty (I'm looking at you, baby in the basket) but no one could suspect the smiling baby fourth from the left of anything treacherous. 

    No wonder a Vienna principal warned parents in 1953 that Krampus would scar children for life.