The Truth Behind The Legend Of Krampus, Austria’s Creepiest Holiday Tradition


The legend might be rooted in lore, but the message rings loud and clear: Don’t misbehave around Christmas.

After the movie Krampus came out, there were many people left wondering what the real story was behind the goat-horned creature that’s three times the size of the average human and evil to the core. This is not the only instance in which Krampus has been seen, though, and in Austria, the legend of the beast goes hand in hand with how a child behaves up until Christmas Eve. There’s a type of back and forth in Germany when it comes to St. Nicholas and Krampus, and if a child makes the right choices and behaves well, they can expect to find gifts under the tree the next day. However, if they misbehave and break the rules, it just might happen that Krampus will be the one sliding down the Chimney rather than St. Nick.

There’s far more to this mythical being than what’s seen in pop culture, though, from his origins to the (equally disturbing) creatures he has to do his bidding the night before Christmas. Although this legend was created to spook children into doing the right thing, the message here is clear: Be good, or be Krampus’ed.

Where Did Krampus Come From?

Krampus is half goat and half man, and just like Santa Claus, or St. Nicholas, in Germany, he comes around to visit children on Christmas Eve. Specifically, the tale of Krampus hales from the Alpine region of Austria, where it’s not difficult to imagine a horned goat-like man coming out of the foothills or descending from the mountains. The legend of his existence has been around for centuries and even to this day, he’s celebrated during a festival referred to as Krampusnacht, which translates to ‘Krampus Night.’ The origins of Krampus are rooted in pagan belief surrounding the winter solstice but were eventually incorporated into Christianity as well, where St. Nicholas actually pays a visit early in December. Alternatively, this is also when Krampus makes his own rounds to children who don’t behave as they should.

While there’s obviously no legitimate record of Krampus (other than personal witness sightings and lore), there is something called Krampuslauf, which is translated to ‘Krampus run.’ During this celebration (if it can be called that), Austrian men get dressed up as Krampus and run through the streets, terrifying children in their towns in an effort to get them to behave before the eventual Krampusnacht. It’s likely due to this that so much attention was drawn to the age-old tale of Krampus and soon enough, the creature became known around the world as the evil counterpart to St. Nicholas, who descends into naughty children’s houses on Krampusnacht, dragging chains behind him, clomping through the house with his hoof-like feet.

Depictions Of Krampus Around The World

Krampus is depicted in many ways but they’re all fairly similar. These depictions began with postcards that came from Austria which were designed to share the legend. However, they weren’t the sweetest of greetings to receive in the mail. With the words ‘Gruss vom Krampus,’ translated as ‘greetings from Krampus,’ emblazoned on the front, the illustrations would show Krampus in action. One of the most popular scenes is those where Krampus pushing a naught child into the sack he carries on his back or chasing after children with a bundle of sticks in tow. These were created to show just how devious Krampus was to those who didn’t follow the rules. No matter what the scene, it always ended with Krampus dragging children off and away as punishment for their bad deeds throughout the year up to Christmas.

Now, Krampus is widely known in most parts of the world and nearly as popular in US pop culture as he is in Germany. With so many movies, shows, and artworks referencing the counterpart to St. Nicholas, it’s easy to see how his reputation has simply blown up, with many choosing to add their own Krampus-themed touches to the holiday season. In reality, it’s far scarier to think of an evil Santa Claus coming to wreak havoc on a town rather than Santa coming and simply not leaving any gifts. The legend of Krampus might be centuries old, but it certainly hasn’t lost its meaning. Nowadays, Krampus fans can find themed sweaters, cards depicting the creature all over Etsy and in gift shops, and many movies dedicated to the legend of the anti-St. Nicholas. However, the legend’s roots lie within Austria’s past… And who knows, somewhere in the high regions of the Alps, there might just be an actual Krampus, just waiting to descend when a child disobeys their parents.