Krampusnacht: The Most Horrible Time of the Year

When the threat of getting no Christmas presents isn’t enough to turn a naughty child nice, it’s time to pull out the big guns.

It’s time for Krampus.


While there will always be something intrinsically unsettling about welcoming a strange, laughing man into your house to give presents to your kids, leave it to the pre-Germanic pagans to inject a little extra darkness into the holiday season. Must be all those long winters. 

Most of the holiday season belongs to St. Nicholas, but December 5th is reserved just for the most un-jolly of spirits. 

Purportedly the son of Hel, Norse god of the underworld, Krampus gets his name from the German word krampen, which means “claws.” And he’s got them. At least for hands. Like all the best hedonistic creatures, he’s also part hairy goat. He’s also got a lolling tongue, perhaps in homage to the satyrs and fauns that came before him. Which is to say, is it any wonder Catholics in Austria, Germany, Hungary, and other very snowy European countries have been trying to banish Krampus from Christmas festivities since the 12th century?

But Krampus fans know he’s not really not so bad. He has a purpose. True, it’s to terrify the crap out of brats and beat them into submission with birch sticks, but there must be a sense of balance in the universe! Santa Claus sure burns a bit brighter when he stands next to a dude that looks like this:

Is he scarier than Black Phillip? No. Is he hotter than Satan being played by Viggo Mortensen in The Prophecy? Also no. But is Krampus more metal than all of those other devils? Yes. There are week-long festivals in his honor and they get so big and loud (Krampus really loves COWBELL!) that refugee children in Austria had to be given a history lesson about Krampus so as not to get nightmares from their cities’ annual parades of fur-sporting, mask-wearing, whip-brandishing acolytes. And here in America, we can’t help but be envious of other countries’ bizarre traditions, so Krampus is catching on here, too. He’s even got his own not-actually-awful movie starring a screaming Toni Collette — Toni Collette has high standards, you know. Bars host Krampus-themed nights in most major cities, though thankfully not with the same connotations as SantaCon. Yet. One gets the sense that drunk men in faun costumes chasing people through the streets is probably the Bavarian equivalent. My money’s definitely on Krampus in a brawl. 

So while you’re guiltily scrolling through Amazon looking for the perfect gift for that relative you don’t even like, so as to avoid stepping into a real store and running the risk of hearing “The Christmas Shoes” on the radio, spare a few moments to cheer on Krampus, the last bastion of a Christmas spirit that hasn’t yet been totally destroyed by late-stage capitalism. Gather round the hearth, raise a stick, beat a naughty child, and enjoy this heartwarming Krampus story, written by the late Anthony Bourdain.

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