Written By: Nicole Radske Miskiewicz
Photo Credit: Bob Radske and Russell Miskiewicz
Over the past 10 years Krampus has been making a large comeback in Germany and Austria, as well as with German-Americans here in the USA. Krampus is a horned, anthropomorphic figure described as “half-goat, half-demon”. He accompanies St. Nikolaus around St. Nikolaus Tag, which is celebrated on December 6th. Krampus punishes children who have misbehaved, in contrast with Saint Niklaus, who rewards the well-behaved with gifts. The night before St. Nikolaus Tag, children leave their shoes outside of their house or bedroom door, and in the morning often find tangerines, nuts and/or chocolate. St. Nikolaus is pictured dressed as a bishop (white robe and staff).
Krampus can be found in several regions including Austria, Bavaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Northern Italy including South Tyrol and the Province of Trento, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Leading up to St. Niklaus Tag towns and villages hold a Krampuslauf (Krampus run), where young men and woman dressed as Krampus participate. St. Nikolaus, Angels, and Witches can also be seen at these runs. During the run the streets are closed off while viewers stand along the sidewalks. People belong to Krampus Groups who dress up in hand made costumes. Local artisans follow tradition to create hand-carved wooden masks and outfits made of animal hair. Although Krampus appears in many variations, he is typically hairy, usually brown or black, and has the cloven hooves and horns of a goat. His long, pointed tongue lolls out and he has fangs. Krampus carries chains which he thrashes for dramatic effect. The chains are sometimes accompanied with bells of various sizes. Some also have Ruten, bundles of birch branches, that Krampus carries and with which he occasionally swats children. Sometimes Krampus appears with a sack or a basket strapped to his back; this is to cart off evil children for drowning, eating, or transport to Hell. At the Krampuslauf they do swat teenagers with the branches and try to scare the children but they do not actually take anyone away and no one is hurt. It is all done in fun to bring back an old tradition and story.
The communities who put on these Parades and attend typically know each other so it is a fun gathering on a cold night to prepare for Christmas and drink gluhwein. Much like America’s Elf on the Shelf, Krampus is used as a tool to try to get children to behave. The children enjoy attending the Parades. Often St. Nikolaus and the Angels will hand out candies and treats.
We wish you all a Happy St. Nikolaus Tag and hope the Krampus does not come to get you. St. Nikolaus is not to be confused with Christkindl or der Weihnachtsmann, which we will save for another time!