Winter in Alpine countries brings terror of the mythical Krampus

Culture -

St. Nicholas' devilish counterpart, the Krampus, is a beast of pagan folklore in Europe's Alpine countries who was said to emerge in the winter to punish naughty children.

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CC BY-ND WikiCommons

In the week leading up to the Dec. 6 Feast of St. Nicholas, towns in countries such as Austria and Germany celebrate Krampusnacht, or Krampus Night. Young men dress up as the hairy goat-like beast and chase children through the dark streets with sticks, chains and bells.

On Krampusnacht, Krampus sometimes appears alongside St. Nicholas and gives out coal or birch branches. Sometimes he has some type bag or cart meant for transporting misbehaved children to his lair to eat them.

Variations of Krampus, which preceded Christianity as part of Yuletime traditions, exist in the Alpine region. In northeastern France there is a version of Krampus called Hans Trapp; Hungary calls the creature Krampusz; and Switzerland calls it Schmutzli.

"It really brings a bit of fear back into the holidays. Now, children seem to get presents whether they are good or bad, so it doesn't matter if they're good or not — they know they'll still get presents." Elizabeth Zibilich, organizer of Krampus Gras in New Orleans

Some have tried to bring the spirit of the mythical Krampus to the U.S., in the form of festivals, concerts, benefits, art shows and traditional parades known as Krampuslauf.

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