A creepy Christmas tale about a creature called Krampus explores the dark side of the holiday season. The legendary beast, born from ancient Alpine traditions, pays a visit to children on Saint Nick’s naughty list.
Who is Krampus?
Krampus is a demonic creature with a goat-like appearance bearing large horns, cloven hooves and dark hair. According to Germanic folklore, Krampus is Saint Nicholas’ counterpart, who has the role of punishing children on Saint Nick’s naughty list.
The name is derived from the German word krampen, which means claw.
Another physical characteristic typically used in depictions of Krampus include his signature long tongue hanging out from between his fangs. The creepy Christmas character is usually shown paired with accessories like chains, bells, a switch and a large basket.
Michael Esordi, captain of the Krewe of Krampus, said Krampus is a very old European tradition with origins dating back to pre-Christian times.
“Centered in the Alps, this tradition is most commonly associated with Austria and Bavaria, but you will also find Krampus is places like Northern Italy and Hungary,” Esordi said.
The ancient Alpine tradition called Krampusnacht, or Krampus night, is when the king of Christmas nightmares reigns, traditionally on Dec. 5. Traditional celebrations surrounding the event are called a Krampuslauf or a Krampus Run.
Esordi says the Krampuslauf inspired his krewe’s New Orleans spin on the ancient tradition, which is why the Bywater parade is named the NOLAuf.
What’s the legend of Krampus?
In Europe, the legend of Krampus is associated with Saint Nicholas Day, which is celebrated on Dec. 6.
Esordi said the folklore serves to warn children with bad behavior. Sound vaguely familiar? The Alpine legend is a version of a cautionary tale, similar to spooky legends from other cultures like the Cajun Rougarou.
“We have heard stories from people, who have grown up with the legend of Krampus, that if they were naughty they knew that Krampus would come for them,” Esordi said.
In terms of punishment, naughty children have no chance escaping Krampus. A child’s only hope against the creature is, of course, good behavior.
“Punishments that Krampus might hand out could range from being chased with a bundle of sticks to snatching the child and placing them in his basket to take back to his lair to eat,” Esordi said.
In America, Saint Nicholas morphed into Santa Claus, who became synonymous with Christmas. As a result, Christmas has become linked to the legend of Krampus.
While the Krewe of Krampus keeps a large portion of their festivities very traditional, the krewe does add a New Orleans flair to the annual parade.
“One New Orleans custom that we have adopted and is not seen in other Krampuslaufs is the throw,” Esordi said.
The krewe’s signature throw is a lump of decorated coal, which could be one of three colors — black, white or gold.
“In Europe, you don’t want a lump of coal, but here in New Orleans people beg us for one,” Esordi said.
For more information about the Krewe of Krampus, visit the website.