In Austro-Bavarian Alpine folklore, Krampus is an anthropomorphic figure described as “half-goat, half-demon”, who, during the Christmas season, punishes children who have misbehaved, in contrast with Saint Nicholas, who rewards the well-behaved with gifts.
The origin of this figure is pre-Christian .
Traditional parades have place any year in many alpine towns, events as the Krampuslauf (English: Krampus run), young men dressed as Krampus walk through the main streets.
A brief article published in 1958 by Maurice Bruce:
“There seems to be little doubt as to his true identity for, in no other form is the full regalia of the Horned God of the Witches so well preserved. The birch – apart from its phallic significance – may have a connection with the initiation rites of certain witch-covens; rites which entailed binding and scourging as a form of mock-death. The chains could have been introduced in a Christian attempt to ‘bind the Devil’ but again they could be a remnant of pagan initiation rites.”
While in Irdning, a small town in Styria in 1975, anthropologist John J. Honigmann wrote:
“The Saint Nicholas festival we are describing incorporates cultural elements widely distributed in Europe, in some cases going back to pre-Christian times. Nicholas himself became popular in Germany around the eleventh century. The feast dedicated to this patron of children is only one winter occasion in which children are the objects of special attention, others being Martinmas, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, and New Year’s Day. Masked devils acting boisterously and making nuisances of themselves are known in Germany since at least the sixteenth century while animal masked devils combining dreadful-comic (schauriglustig) antics appeared in Medieval church plays. A large literature, much of it by European folklorists, bears on these subjects. … Austrians in the community we studied are quite aware of “heathen” elements being blended with Christian elements in the Saint Nicholas customs and in other traditional winter ceremonies. They believe Krampus derives from a pagan supernatural who was assimilated to the Christian devil.”
In the aftermath of the 1923 election, the Krampus tradition was prohibited by the Dollfuss regime under the Fatherland’s Front (Vaterländische Front) and the Christian Social Party. In the 1950s, the government distributed pamphlets titled “Krampus Is an Evil Man”.Towards the end of the century, a popular resurgence of Krampus celebrations occurred and continues today.The Krampus tradition is being revived in Bavaria as well, along with a local artistic tradition of hand-carved wooden masks.
The Feast of St. Nicholas is celebrated in parts of Europe on 6 December. On the preceding evening of December 5, Krampus Night or Krampusnacht, the wicked hairy devil appears on the streets. It is customary to offer a Krampus schnapps, a strong distilled fruit brandy.These runs may include Perchten, similarly wild pagan spirits of Germanic folklore and sometimes female in representation, although the Perchten are properly associated with the period between winter solstice and 6 January.
North American Krampus celebrations are a growing phenomenon. Multiple Krampus related celebrations are held in cities across the continent. Each event may be focused on a theme and or cause, be it a simple bar crawl, toy drive, or a charity fundraiser.