March 8, 2021

Cryptozoo: Krampus

You slither out of our bedroll and stretch, bracing against the cold morning air. You’re up first, so it’s up to you to start a fire and get water boiling. As you reach for your boots, you notice something tall sticking out of the top. Is that a stick? Weird. You toss it onto the ground, make your way to the remnants of last night’s campfire. 

But something has already beaten you there. 

Next to the coals stands a creature at least seven feet tall, body covered in long, shaggy wool and huge gnarled horns curling from its head. You notice that it has unnervingly human hands and mismatched feet, one a cloven hoof and the other eerily human. Next to this half goat, half man sits a huge canvas bag, which occasionally jerks as something inside struggles to get out. You hear a bell ringing as the bag begins to open, dread taking root as you look into the black, bottomless maw. 

Hope you’re ready to fight Krampus. 

This dark, twisted version of Santa is pretty recognizable these days, in vogue at the moment thanks to movies and an overall increased interest in the weird. Though his popularity is a recent phenomenon, the Krampus stories are very old, and rooted in an absolute mangled mess of Germanic, Norse, and Christian mythology. 

Krampus has a lot in common with the Christian devil, including goat-like appearance. The single human foot is a holdover from early depictions of the devil, which said that Old Scratch had a hard time copying human form and would always have one goat hoof while in disguise. But this particular devil is specific to Christmas, acting as a dark companion to Saint Nick. Bad kids got more than coal–they were literally stuffed in a bag and dragged to hell by Krampus. Some variations have Krampus drowning or eating children instead of carrying them away. Merry Christmas, kids! 

With Krampus, the best way to avoid his wrath is probably to stay off his radar in the first place. There are a lot of Scandinavian and Germanic traditions that strongly tie goodness to contributing to the community, so being a good and productive party member may be enough to keep you out of the bag. But if your chaotic or evil alignment guarantees you’ll be on the bad list, might as well lean into it and join some celebrations exalting this devil / Santa hybrid. 

December 6th marks the feast of Saint Nicholas, but December 5th is Krampusnacht, an evening of festivities that includes dressing up like Krampus and terrorizing children. Traditionally, Krampus would leave bundles of sticks for the bad kids as a reminder that punishment was coming. Now, cities hold parades, bar crawls, and runs for costumed adults, an evening of Christmas-themed mischief to blow off some steam. It’s also worth noting that basically every fascist regime that rolled through Europe banned any depictions or celebrations of Krampus, so there’s probably a lot to be said here about what evil really is, anyway. 

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