Iceland’s Krampus, the Demonic Companion of St. Nicholas

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Krampus Christmas Chocolate

Christmas isn’t all cute and cuddly coke-swigging men in red outfits with white beards, you know.

Iceland, for instance, has its motley bunch of Yule Lads, some of whom are not the pleasantest of chaps. There’s one character who beats those boys into a cocked hat, however: Krampus (his name should be spoken in a deep voice with an evil cackle). Above: Krampus Christmas Chocolate Red Speaks.

He is the devil-Santa and demonic companion of St Nicholas,  popular in alpine countries such as Austria, Bavaria, Croatia and South Tyrol.

Good children, as everyone knows, are rewarded at Christmas time, but Krampus serves as punishment for the naughty ones. On 5th December, the evening before the Feast of St Nicholas, he steals them – whether to beat them up or eat them or just scold them, nobody knows.

He’s pictured with a long red tongue, cloven hooves, fur and horns and carries a bunch of birch twigs, all the better to hit children with. He’s also known to rattle bells and chains. He’s quite a character.

Cards called Krampuskarten that have been exchanged since the 1800s:

Krampus card

And masks that young men wear along with their furry suits to go round scaring the bejesus out of youngsters and partaking of alcohol on December 5th.

Krampus mask

It’s thought that he dates from pre-Christian times, being the Christian version of the satyr, and brought into the Christian fold by having him accompany St Nicholas on his rounds.

The Inquisition tried to stamp out these goat-figures, as did post-war Austria, but such a good character is not going to disappear even though he may seem a bit frightening in these soft times.

By the end of the twentieth century he’d come back into fashion and by all accounts is doing very well, thank you very much.

Happy Krampus!

 

Julie McNamee
Born in Belfast and now living in London, Julie McNamee is involved in internet marketing as a day job and blogging as a hobby. She's interested in all things quirky and Fortean, as well as art, photography and theatre. Her blog Quirky Travel, specializes in London and Paris top tips and off the beaten path information with subjects such as London film locations and unusual Paris museums.
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