In the Old World countries of Austria, Switzerland, Bavaria, Slovenia, western Croatia and Italy children learn that they truly must be “good for goodness sake” because if they are not they will be paid a visit not by St. Nick but by Krampus the Christmas Devil. Originating in 6th-Century Austrian folklore, Krampus is a demon covered in shaggy hair and donning curled horns with a long red tongue. A companion of Santa, Krampus roams the cold, dark nights of December carrying a large sack and sliding down chimneys seeking naughty children to stuff in his bag and beat with his switch.
How did a demon come to be a companion of old St. Nick? The legends are unclear, though as you will notice in many of the pictures and photos Krampus is typically depicted dressed in chains, a symbol that he is under St. Nicolas’ charge. According to one legend those chains are the same ones which once bound St. Peter, thus fueling them with enough divine power to bind the devil himself - or at least one incarnation of him anyway.
In Europe Krampus has become a certified Christmas celebrity, rivaling Santa himself. Every December 5th (the day proceeding the Catholic Church’s feast day in honor of St. Nicolas) children and adults of all ages all over Europe celebrate Krampus in a festival that is equal parts Christmas, Halloween and Mardi Gras. There is food and drink and vendors of all kind. People wait along the streets for the Krampusumzüge or “Krampus-Run”, the main event in which dozens of individuals dressed as Krampuses run through the streets threatening and menacing children as well as occasionally smacking a pretty young girl on the rear with their switches.
Unfortunately Krampus has had little success infiltrating the highly commercialized Christmas of the U.S. with San Francisco being the only city in America to have a (strictly adult oriented) Krampus Day celebration. Still Krampus has occasionally popped up in other places. He appeared in the season one Christmas episode of the popular Adult Swim animated series The Venture Bros. as well as in a G4 Christmas commercial.
Sources and Additional Information:
Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns, and Goblins: An Encyclopedia (1996) by Carol Rose
Christmas Curiosities: Odd, Dark, and Forgotten Christmas (2008) by John Grossman
The Devil in Design: The Krampus Postcards (2004) by Monte Beauchamp
Santa's Not-So-Little Helper (2002) by Clay Risen
Krampus: The Sinister Sidekick of Santa (2008) by R.J. Evans
All Postcard and Photo Images from Monster Brains
Krampus, as seen on The Venture Bros., from The Mantis Eye Experiment