Bad Santa, meet Krampus: a half-goat, half-demon, horrific beast who literally beats kids into being nice and not naughty.
They say he comes on the eve of Dec. 5, a night they call “Krampusnacht,” armed with a bundle of gold-painted birch sticks to beat naughty children with. One can usually hear him coming, as though he has one bare human-like foot, his steps alternate with the clip-clop of his other cloven hoof.
His name is Krampus, a figure whose pointed devilish horns and long snake-like tongue have been terrifying European children for centuries. A hairy, black monster of a creature who appears before Christmas to punish children, he is often depicted as carrying chains, and various bells. He also carries a large sack, or occasionally a basket, on his back to cart off evil children and dispose of them. Though the stories vary, his usual disposal methods include drowning, eating, and dropping them off in Hell.
Starting before the 17th century, stories of a horned god who showed up to punish people for their sins around Christmastime began to pop up in Europe, particularly in Eastern European countries. Many historians attribute the roots of the legends to pre-Christian paganism, as the appearance of Krampus coincides with multiple pagan winter rites.
In the aftermath of the 1923 election in Austria, 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.
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