We see Christmas as cheery and joyful due, at least in part, to the jolly fella in the red and white suite who commits a little light b-and-e to leave us gifts each year.
But legend has it that Santa’s evil twin might be hitching a ride in that sleigh, spreading not cheer but leaving behind sticks and committing battery each year.
In this year’s Christmas special, we’re talking about the evil Santa Claus that lurks around Europe’s alpine region. Krampus is commin’ to town, and might just be visiting a chimney near you this year.
Listen to the episode
You can listen to this episode on your favourite podcast player or you can stream it below. If you want MORE of The Lady Dicks, join us on Patreon for instant access to bonus episodes.
Who is this evil Santa Claus, Krampus?
Known by many names Krampus the Christmas demon is an important figure in the holiday traditions of Austria’s German-speaking Alpine area, among others. Like his jollier and fatter counterpart, this evil Santa Claus makes his rounds once a year to the houses of every child. But instead of leaving toys and treats, he packages up sticks (what sounds to be the equivalent to the idea of coal) or beats and kidnaps children.
The descriptions of Krampus vary, but he’s most often depicted as having a deranged face, bloodshot eyes, a furry black body and giant curled horns sprouting from his head. He also has a large, snake-like tongue and some depictions see him carrying chains that were thought to be added by the Christian Church to symbolize the binding of the devil.
What’s interesting is that the Krampus origin doesn’t have Christmas roots. He has pre-Germanic pagan origins as the son of Hell, the Norse God of the underworld. But over the years this half-goat, half-demon Norse God morphed into Santa’s sidekick and these two pals have been carpooling to houses and businesses around the world since the 17th Century. Hence why he’s sometimes called the evil German Santa Claus.
Technically, the jury’s out on whether these two actually pair up because if you think about it, it would be weird for Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick to cart around a kidnapping criminal who enjoys a little light battery while he delivers gifts around the world. Instead, some sources say that the evil Santa Clause hits the town the night of December 5, leaving bundles of sticks for bad children. In some cases, Krampus opts to beat them with those sticks or snatches them right out of their homes and throwing them in a stream (presumably to drown) or drag them straight down to hell with him. Then, the next day, December 6 on Saint Nicholas’ Day, Santa Clause drops off presents for the surviving children.
The legends that have them visiting houses together say that Krampus tags along with Saint Nick and while he’s busy delivering candy to the shoes of good kids, Krampus is filling the shoes of the bad ones with birch branches or making them disappear by stuffing them in his sack and taking them back to his lair to be eaten or tortured.
The Krampus Run
One popular celebration of Krampus can be found in a centuries-old tradition called by many names including “Perch ten lauf ” or “Klaubaufe” or for something more familiar to many of us, the Krampus Run. It’s an ancient pagan ritual that is meant to dispel winter ghosts.
During these “runs,” which usually take place on December 5, dozens of young men dress up as Krampus and chase giggling children throughout the streets. But as cutesy as that may sound, the procession stalks through the town, carrying bells and chains, intimidating those going about their day, chasing them down and whipping them with bundles of sticks. And before you start thinking that they can’t possibly be actually beating people in the streets with sticks, one writer who attended on three separate occasions, described “savage beatings to people’s thighs and Shins” and one incident where a Krampus chased down a teenager and sat on them.
There are also traditions on Krampus Nacht (December 5) where people attend Krampus-themed balls. For many, these annual celebrations like stalking children and adults through the streets during the Run are fun seasonal activities others disagree. In the 12th Century, the Catholic Church banned Krampus celebrations because of his likeness to the devil.
It turns out that you simply can’t stomp out the legend of Krampus and it began to rise again in popularity by the 19th Century with the creature being featured on greeting cards—some that even featured the message Gru B von Krampus or Greetings from Krampus. But in 1934, as ought to happen, the Vaterland ische Front or the Fatherland’s Front under the Christian Social Party banned Krampus traditions under the Dollfus regime. They even went so far as delivering pamphlets titled Krampus is an Evil Man… (thanks, tips).
And while it seems like St. Nick’s evil counterpart can’t seem to cut a break with the government, Krampus traditions are still celebrated today through tokens like stockings, ornaments and toys made in his image, and annual Krampus Fun Runs mostly in countries like Austria, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia and the Czech Republic. Some Austrian homes even have year-round decor to warn kids of Krampus—they hang bundles of sticks around their houses throughout the year to remind children to behave.
He’s even wormed his way into the hearts of those in North America, though the celebrations don’t look quite the same. He even has his own comic series and a film starring Adam Scott and Toni Collette that used to be on Canadian Netflix.
Travelling for Krampus celebrations
Krampus masks are valued pieces of folk art. Traditionally they are made of wood and hand-carved by artisans. And many of these mask end up in museums like Museum Marantha in Lutago, Italy. Much of this museum, which as a 4.5 out of 5 on Trip Advisor is underground and features nativity scenes from around Europe. Sadly, there are no 1 star reviews at all, and the few two-star reviews that exist aren’t in English.
If you want to experience a Krampus Run yourself and have some protective armour on hand, the Krampus Parade in Lienz, Austria is apparently the place to be. Lienz is described as being a medieval town in the Austrian state of Tyrol towards the southern boarder of Italy. Their Kramus Run takes place on December 5 (like most Krampus events), but while you’re around there, here are a few places you should check out:
- Schloss Bruck, a true medieval castle that houses the Museums der Stadt Lienz today. It has a 4-star rating on Trip Advisor and sadly features no one-star reviews.
- If you’re looking for something more exciting, you can ride the Osttirodler Alpine coaster. Its official description says “The elevated track winds you through more than 2.7 kilometers of loops, bends and hair-pin curves at speeds up to 40 kph. Just like your favourite roller coaster – but with the refreshing mountain scenery of East Tirol’s capital Lienz.”
- Tristacher See is a swimming lake nestled on slopes of Lienz Dolomites, while this isn’t a great winter activity, for those of us looking to skip the beatings of the Krampus run and travel in the summer it’s a great stop. You can hop on a free shuttle bus from Lienz to get there or you can rent a car and make the 15-minute trek on your own. You’ll also find a hotel and campsite on the shores of the lake.
- And for those of us looking for something to sip on, Kuenz Schnapps Distillery. Schnapps is one of the “finest alcoholic exports of Austria” and this particular distillery has 400 years of family history.
Did you love this episode? Check these other gems out:
- Naughty Santa: Listen to our previous holiday special for some Christmas-themed horror stories about dirty ol’ Saint Nick… or at least those that pretend to be him.
- Bloody Christmas: Blood, guts and Christmas. What other kinds of stories will make your holiday as special as these ones?
- Christmas Mysteries: Christeries, if you will: Ready to get your mystery on? Here are seven mind-bending mysteries!
- A Ghostly Flight: Haunted Flight 401: Not exactly holiday-themed, but in December 1972, Eastern Airlines 401 crashed in the Everglades while trying to land in Miami and some ghostly passengers never did stop flying.
The Lady Dicks did not just magically come up with the information for Evil Santa Claus: Krampus is Coming to Town themselves, they, in fact, did research beyond Wikipedia (thanks jerky iTunes reviewer for your one-star comment), and here are those sources:
- The Origin of Krampus, Europe’s Evil Twist on Santa, Jennifer Billock, Smithsonian Magazine
- 9 Facts About Krampus, St. Nick’s Demonic Companion, Jess Zimmerman, Mental Floss
- Museum Marantha, TripAdvisor
- Krampus – The Half-Goat, Half-Demon Devil of Christmas, Heritage Daily
- 15 Best Things to Do in Lienz (Austria), The Crazy Tourist
- Meet Krampus, the Christmas Demon with Horns and Chains, Culture Trip
The Lady Dicks Podcast was created by Tae Haahr. The Lady Dicks are Andrea Campion, Nikki Kipping and Tae Haahr. “Evil Santa Claus: Krampus is Coming to Town” was research, written, edited and produced by Tae Haahr. The Lady Dicks theme music, A Pink Panther, is licenced through AudioJungle.
Did you love this episode? Don’t forget to Pin it!