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Who/what is Krampus and what does it have to do with Christmas?


Krampus is a nightmarish, demonic goat-monster that is used in some cultures to scare children into good behavior in the days leading up to Christmas. Krampus is like an anti-Santa Claus. The Bible says nothing about Krampus. The legend comes from pagan mythology and European folklore.

Krampus is depicted as having long, curved horns, fangs, a long tongue, and dark hair all over, making it look devilish. (The German word krampen means “claw.”) The legend of Krampus may have ties to Nordic paganism, but the common story originated in Austrian folklore, probably as a way for parents to try to make their children mind—misbehaving children are threatened with a visit from Krampus, who will scare them, beat them with a bundle of birch switches, and possibly even take them away to his lair. Krampus, then, is rather like Santa’s evil counterpart. Santa’s main threat is to put mischief-makers on his “naughty list” or leave them a lump of coal, but Krampus will terrorize them.

In Austria and regions of Germany, residents look for Krampus on Krampusnacht (Krampus Night) on the night of December 5—which happens to be the eve of St. Nicolas Day. In Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, adults get involved in a chaotic Krampus tribute involving public drunkenness and men running through the streets dressed as devils. In recent years, some people in the U.S. have begun throwing Krampus parties as a sort of twisted, anti-Christmas celebration.

Many cultures have legends about a monster or boogeyman of some sort that will snatch up children if they don’t obey: the Namahage in Japan, Cuco in Latin America, and Baba Yaga in Russia, for example. James Whitcomb Riley’s famous poem “Little Orphant Annie” is a cautionary tale to encourage good behavior; each stanza ends with the warning “the Gobble-uns ʼll git you / Ef you / Don’t / Watch / Out!”

Obedience is a good thing. However, scaring children into obeying does not change the heart. And using a child-stealing, whip-tongued goat-devil to frighten young ones cannot be good. How much better to teach them the truth about God’s love and His wrath, along with the true Christmas story and the good news that Jesus can save them from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

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Who/what is Krampus and what does it have to do with Christmas?
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This page last updated: January 4, 2022