Unlike Santa Claus, who (legend has it) lives at the North Pole, works alongside reindeer and elves and tends to be pretty jolly, the Saint Nicholas who delivers gifts to Austria and a few other European countries employs a much nastier seasonal helper.
The myths surrounding this fearsome beast date back to medieval times but it’s tough to determine exactly when he was created. The word “Krampus” is derived from a very old German word for “claw” and he definitely lives up to his name. Krampus is a muscular monster covered in fur with horns and razor sharp teeth. He looks like a cross between Bigfoot and a bighorn sheep.
In Austria the gift-giving portion of Christmas is celebrated on December 6th. The night beforehand is set aside for the monster to strike fear into the hearts of poorly behaved children. Different regions celebrate “Krampus Night” in different ways but it typically involves volunteers dressing up as the monster to visit homes and businesses to warn kids that, if they don’t mind their manners, Saint Nicholas won’t bring them any presents. Even worse, Krampus will return and punish them. The threats can involve everything from beating children with chains, eating them alive, or dragging them to Hell.
Meanwhile, thousands more love the monster and flock to Krampus Night events all across the country and beyond. Many communities host a “Krampus Run,” which involves dozens of actors (typically fueled by plenty of alcohol) marching along a parade route dressed as the mythical beast while shaking fake chains and other weapons at kids on the sidelines.