The Krampus is an Alpine custom, a frightening figure of the Advent (beginning of December). While accompanying Saint Nicholas, Nicholas presents good children, and the naughty ones are punished by Krampus, the evil counterpart.
The name derives from the Old German cramps = “claw” or from the Bavarian “Krampn” = something lifeless, withered or withered.
By the middle of the twentieth century, this aspect of Krampus was much more accentuated as a scared-faced, black-faced freak who threatened to beat the naughty child.
In many places, even today, the smaller children getting scolded like “if you are not good, the Krampus, and not the Nicholas will see you”, to make them behave. That is partly the case in Bavaria and Tyrol today. The figure of Krampus (though different) is also known in Hungary, the Czech Republic, parts of northern Italy and parts of Croatia. The Krampus has today often adopted the form of the former Perchtengestalten.
In the Bavarian alpine foothills and in the Austrian Salzkammergut the Krampus is more commonly known under the name “Kramperl.” The Salzkammergut also comes from the name “Nicholas” derived name “Niklo.”
The Krampus Tradition was originally spread throughout Austria, and then was forbidden in the Inquisition. No one was allowed to disguise themselves as a devilish figure because of the death penalty, however, this winter custom was continued in some hard-to-reach places.
The forerunners of today’s Krampusse, under the name of “Devil,” were the companions of Nicholas. Since the middle of the 17th century, the monastic schools (Children’s Bishops’ Festival) had developed the subject of one’s faith: St. Nicholas, accompanied by frightening figures, examined and bestowed the children, while the wicked were punished by the “devil.”
Such folk customs were also often punished by the ecclesiastical and worldly, banned because they were considered to be outmoded and saw them as a reason for disputes and immorality. In the past, the Krampus was also an element of social control. They reprimanded the customs of the population, punished miserly peasant women and too strict employers. Often they also put “the tail in the window” to the authorities. In the Age of Enlightenment, these customs saw an expression of backwardness and an undermining of custom and order. But the tradition kept on secretly, and changed steadily and finally disappeared altogether. Around 1900, folkloristic, social and economic aspirations rediscovered and changed customs.
Till this day in Austria, the St. Nicholas who gives presents to the children on December 6, is accompanied by Krampussen. These shaggy creatures look fearsome in their fur costumes and intricately carved wooden masks. Large bells, which have bound the Krampus to chains around the hips, announce the dark figures from afar.
Picture of Krampus and St. Nicholas in 1900’s (per Wikimedia)
Under the Krampus masks are usually hiding young people who have great fun to scare passersby and chase their peers with their rods afterwards. In doing so, they make great use of their long rods. Whereby, in some places, the children are given a test of courage, in which they try to provoke the Krampus without being caught or beaten.
Modern Times: Around the Krampus runs, fear management seminars are offered to the population, the Krampusse themselves have to submit in some places a code of conduct that prohibits alcohol consumption and the beating of passers-by.
Watch a little video clip about the Krampus Lauf in Munich below:
Learn more about Austrian customs and folklore by ordering these books here: