Krampus: Saint Nick’s Devilish Double

Image for post
Image for post
Source: The Roar (


Krampus gets his name from the German word “krampen,” which means “claw.” This name is an apt description for this demon, because of his terrifying appearance which includes tremendous, clawed hands. Krampus is depicted as a sort of half-man, half-beast similar to the fauns and satyrs of Greek mythology. He has huge horns like a goat, the tail of a serpent, a forked tongue like that of a lizard or snake. He walks on two hind legs like those of a goat, with cloven hooves which can be heard echoing as he makes his way through the streets on Krampusnacht. He carries with him a bundle of birch branches, a horsehair whip, and heavy chains. On his back can be seen a large wicker basket, or bag.

Image for post
Image for post
Vintage Krampus Card

Tradition and Origins

Scholars have not been able to pinpoint a precise time or region of origin for Krampus, but it is believed that he, along with Santa Claus in his various forms, predates Christianity and has evolved and been assimilated into Christian traditions from older Pagan beliefs. His currently accepted counterpart St. Nicholas is a saint of Catholic origin, but Krampus fits into more ancient structures of spiritualism and religion. A common occurrence in ancient mythologies and belief systems is that of the duality of good and evil, so his opposing role with St. Nicholas or Santa Claus suits the relationships that are so prevalent in ancient Pagan stories. Celebrations concerning him are practiced in modern Austria, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic. His name, mannerisms, and current region of observance suggest that he may have originated in Germany or the Alpine region of Austria. Similar entities exist throughout European traditions, acting as counterparts to Santa Claus such as Knecht Ruprecht and Belsnickle (Germanic Regions), Hans Trapp and Pere Fouttard (France), and Zwarte (The Netherlands.)

Image for post
Image for post
Photo from a recent Krampus Run. Source: Daily Mail

History and Evolution of Celebrations

Today, there has been a revitalization of Krampusnacht celebrations throughout the world. Every year in Austria, Germany, and a few other countries in that region of Europe, there is the Krampuslauf, or the Krampus Run. During this parade of sorts, men drink beer and dress up as Krampus or other similar demons, and run through the streets, shaking chains and being generally unruly. This tradition was originally a way to frighten children into behaving but has since evolved into a fun and exciting celebration for adults who get to party and release pent up energy while dressing up.


Leafloor, L. (2015). Ancient Origins. Santa’s Horned Helper: The Fearsome Legend of Krampus, Christmas Punisher.

Little, B. (2018). History. Meet Krampus, the Christmas Devil Who Punishes Naughty Children.

Written by

History degree, freelance writer, novice metal worker and mechanic, adventure and horror enthusiast.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store