Krampus is a mythical creature that has origins in Alpine folklore and is today part of many Christmas traditions in Central Europe. But is this devilish companion of Saint Nicholas actually a god? Let’s take a deeper look at the history and mythology surrounding Krampus to try and answer this question.
What is Krampus?
Krampus is a horned, anthropomorphic figure who accompanies Saint Nicholas during the Christmas season, warning and punishing bad children. His name is derived from the German word “krampen” meaning claw. He is depicted as having cloven hooves, shaggy hair, large horns, and a long pointed tongue. He carries chains, thought to symbolize the binding of the Devil, and a bundle of birch sticks with which to beat naughty children.
Krampus participates in traditional parades and festivals in places like Austria, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic. According to folklore, on the night of December 5, the eve of Saint Nicholas Day, Krampus roams the streets looking for misbehaving children. He swats them with his birch branches, and in some accounts, captures them and throws them in his sack to take them away. This is meant to be a cautionary tale to make children be on their best behavior.
Origins and History
The origins of Krampus can be traced back to pre-Germanic pagan traditions. During the winter solstice, young men would dress up in sheep skins and masks, roaming the villages to drunkenly chase women. This practice evolved over time, likely merging with legends of the horned god Berchta. Berchta was said to roam the countryside during Yule, punishing bad children and rewarding good ones.
When Christianity came to Germany, St. Nicholas was introduced as the rewarder of nice children, while Krampus became his companion to punish the naughty. Krampus Night tied into celebrations of the Feast of St. Nicholas on December 6. The Church attempted to ban Krampus celebrations in the 12th century, but they proved too popular and endured.
Krampus’ appearance continued to evolve over the centuries, taking on more demonic characteristics. The Church tried again to prohibit Krampus festivities in the 17th and 18th centuries, but he remained a staple of Christmas tradition in Alpine regions of Europe.
In the early 20th century, postcards were made depicting Krampus punishing people. This fueled his popularity and spread his legend beyond Europe. He endures today as an essential part of holiday celebrations like Krampusnacht in Austria and has gained a cult following around the world.
Mythology and Folk Tales
There are a wide range of myths and folk tales surrounding Krampus that have developed over the centuries. Here are some of the most notable ones:
- He is the son of Hel in Norse mythology.
- He is the child of Loki and Angrboda.
- He is the grandson of Surtr, the king of the fire giants.
- His father is the Norse god Beli, also known as Beelzebub.
- He was raised by witches.
- He is the brother of the three-legged horse Sleipnir who is the steed of Odin.
- His name is derived from the old Norse word for claw or hoof.
In addition to myths about Krampus’ lineage and origins, there are also many tales of his antics punishing naughty children and sparing those who are good. Some of these stories include:
- Kidnapping bad children in his sack or basket to drown, eat or transport them to Hell.
- Leaving bundles of sticks painted gold in the shoes of nice children.
- Chasing children through the streets on Krampusnacht with his birch stick raised.
- Climbing onto rooftops to listen for misbehaving children inside homes.
- Rattling chains outside windows to warn of his approach.
- Suppose children try to pray for safety; he will mock their religion.
- He remembers and punishes kids who were bad the next year.
These myths and legends have solidified Krampus’ role as an anti-Saint Nicholas, dishing out frightening punishments to naughty children to balance St. Nick’s rewards to the nice. They reflect centuries of tales used to scare kids into good behavior preceding Christmas.
Krampus in Popular Culture
While Krampus remains a fixture of holiday celebrations in Europe, he has also gained popularity worldwide thanks to appearances in all forms of media:
- Movies: Krampus has been featured in films like “Krampus” (2015), “Krampus: The Christmas Devil” (2013), and “Krampus: The Reckoning” (2015).
- Television: He has been the subject of episodes of shows like “American Dad,” “Grimm,” “The Colbert Report,” “Teen Titan Go!,” and “Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated.”
- Books: Krampus is central to books like “Krampus: The Yule Lord” by Brom, “The Krampus and the Old, Dark Christmas” by Al Ridenour, and many children’s books about the legend.
- Toys: There are Krampus action figures, plushes, dolls, cards, and other collectibles.
- Video Games: He has appeared as a character in “CarnEvil,” “The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth,” and “MadWorld.”
Krampus has also become a popular figure in holiday celebrations around the world. There are Krampus runs, festivals, and parades in many large cities where people dress up as the creature.
Is Krampus a God?
With this background information in mind, let’s assess the evidence for and against Krampus actually being a deity within mythology and folk religion:
Evidence That Krampus is a God
- Krampus has his own established mythology and backstory as a supernatural being with links to gods like Loki and Hel.
- His visage and habit of punishing wrongdoers have echoes of deities of the underworld and justice.
- He is portrayed as a powerful, immortal entity not bound by human constraints.
- Krampus has divine abilities like omniscience to know if children were bad or good.
- He was so hard to banish that the Church failed to stop his worship in folk traditions.
- Krampus has survived as a figure for centuries, passed down in legend and ritual.
- Modern Krampus worship has revived with art, media, festivals, paraphernalia, and more.
Evidence Against Krampus Being a God
- No organized religion or cult of worshippers recognizes Krampus as a central deity.
- Myths of his origins make him subordinate to higher gods like Loki or Hel.
- He functions only as a seasonal companion figure to St. Nicholas.
- Krampus acts only as a punisher, not in a wider pantheon role.
- He is not all powerful and focuses only on children during Yuletide.
- Folk traditions treated him more as a spirit than a supreme being.
- Modern popularity tends to emphasize his monstrousness over divinity.
Overall, the evidence paints Krampus as having elements of a deity but not the status, powers, or worship of a true god. He occupies a unique middle ground between pagan god and Christian devil that is not a perfect fit for either.
So is Krampus a god? After examining the mythology, history, and folklore surrounding this horned Christmas terror, the answer appears to definitively be no. While Krampus may have quasi-divine origins and god-like abilities to punish wrongdoing, he lacks the full standing and powers of a real, worshipped deity. Modern portrayals focus more on his devilish trickery than any sincere religious belief in him as a god. Krampus endures as a legendary Christmas character meant to scare kids straight and add a bite of wicked fun to holiday traditions. But in the final analysis, he remains an awe-inspiring anthropomorphic entity rather than an actual god in his own right.