ou know Saint Nicholas, and probably Sinterklaas, his Dutch counterpart, but these aren't the only European characters that make an appearance this time of year.
From the earliest days, these Christmas icons have been accompanied by helpers, not all of whom were very nice. In the U.S., we think of Santa and his assistants (usually elves) as good, loving, and wholesome.
But at least one personality traditionally tied to Saint Nick has much more sinister origins, and his name is Krampus.
Krampus accompanied Saint Nicholas each December.
While the good saint left sweets in the shoes of good children and birch twigs for the naughty, his devilish counterpart’s specialty was punishing naughty children. He was also known to beat them, or even kidnap them by stuffing them into his sack.
As the son of the Norse god of the underworld, Krampus's origins pre-date Christianity.
He’s half-goat, half-man, and entirely something from a nightmare— a terrifying combination of horns, claws, and thick body fur. In fact, his resemblance to the Christian devil led the church to try to ban Krampus celebrations in the 12th century, and again as late as the 1930s.
But Krampus would not be lost. In fact, he's making a huge comeback.
As terrifying as he appears, he is a much-beloved Christmas character throughout Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. Krampus parades are on the rise throughout northern Europe.
Traditionally, young men dress in ghastly horned masks and animal furs, and march through town to the terror and delight of onlookers.
This is not a tame, G-rated “scary” parade for children. This is full-on scary demons, fire, blood, claws, gnashing teeth, plus the threat of punishment for naughty children. And it’s a family event.
While people from the region know and love Krampus, there are some newcomers who might not understand the appeal.
Austria has seen a huge influx of refugees from Syria and Afghanistan, and some are concerned that Krampus might be misunderstood and terrifying for them. In an effort to help the refugees understand and adopt the culture and traditions of their new home, in some areas refugee children were invited to Krampus education events. They were shown the costumes and props and learned the history of the beloved demonic character.