Why do Austrians celebrate Christmas with a child-tormenting goat-demon called Krampus?

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2 December
12:05
December
2016

Krampus is the counterpart to the kindly St Nicholas, who is a figure of Europe folklore who arrives on the 6 December and rewards good children by leaving presents in their shoes. The bad children are punished by the Krampus, who whips them with birch twigs, and, if they've been especially bad he hauls them off to the Underworld, where who knows what happens – certainly not anything that St Nicholas would want to contemplate.

“Krampus is the shadow side of St Nicholas. He appeals to the part of us that loves to be scared.”

Krampus is a familiar Christmas figure in Austria, Germany and surrounding countries. It’s thought he was originally the son of the Norse goddess Hel, who lived in the Underworld. The roots of the modern Krampus are firmly in pagan Europe, dating back at least 1,500 years. It’s thought that he was meant to frighten away winter ghosts. His appearance bears a strong resemblance to that of the Devil. As a result, the Catholic church tried to ban Krampus during the 12th century but the tradition stuck, because people have always loved him, especially parents who could terrify their children into good behaviour, similar to how British parents tell their children that Father Christmas won’t bring them any presents. To take the psychological view, he’s the shadow side of St Nicholas and he appeals to the part of us that loves to be scared.

Krampus has really caught on in North America, with a comedy-horror film bearing his name released last year. He’s clearly a fantastic commercial proposition and if he’s gone to Hollywood, he’s going to be over here sooner rather than later.

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