Who is Krampus? Uncovering the Legend of the Christmas Devil


If there’s a jolly St Nicholas handing out wish list goodies to well behaved kids on St Nicholas Day, then you best believe there’s a flip side to the bearded benevolent man in red. His name is Krampus and he is anything but merry!

You Better Watch Out

Described as an ominous beast with horns, cloven hooves and a long, forked tongue, the sinister being, also known as Knecht Ruprecht, Certa, Perchten, Black Peter, Schmutzli, Pelznickel, Klaubauf across the Alpine region is tasked with punishing little miscreants during the Christmas season by swatting them with a bundle of birch sticks before hauling them off to the dreaded underworld.

You better not cry

The legend of this pagan monster is most prevalent in Alpine countries (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) and is said to go back 1500 years, no doubt perpetrated by parents who wanted to keep their kids in check. According to Norse mythology, Krampus (derived from the Old High German word krampen, meaning claw) is said to be the son of the Norse god Hel, ruler of Helheim or the Underworld. Once Christianity arrived in Europe, Krampus and its beliefs were chucked out the window –but apparently not far enough because………….

Krampus is coming to town

Krampusnacht festivals kick off on the 5th of December, the night before St Nicholas Day. This is when young men dressed as the Christmas devil roam the streets scaring the bejesus out of kids. Their frightful costumes accompanied by jingly bells and rusty chains are sure to spook travelers unaware of the pagan celebration. Don’t be surprised if you’re hit by a few Krampus monsters –it’s all in good fun and mischief.

Krampus today

While not on the same level as Santa Claus, Krampus has become commercial in its own way. There’s even a movie loosely based on the legendary story playing in cinemas right now. As Krampusnacht celebrations become more mainstream in Italy, Poland and even some parts of the States, it has to be said no experience can trump the original setting. So if you’re anywhere in Germany or Austria get your Krampus mask and join the parade of mischief makers! Your typical Yuletide festival this is not!


Europhile in Chief at Wonderlust Europe. When not at the keyboard, Karen collects passport stamps and is always on the hunt for the best desserts in town.

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