In a small German town a family of four spends the day going from shop to shop ogling at the treats and toys inside. It’s finally December, and that means St. Nicholas is coming soon. As the day gives way to dusk, the family gathers outside the last shop to go home.
Just as they hit the sidewalk, a huge, dark figure darts past them. The youngest child screams and buries her face into her father’s jacket. Another dark figure zooms past them and down the street, bells clanging on its back. They notice the figure holding several thin branches from a tree. They look down the street and see a third huge monstrosity––hair down to its knees and horns twisting at least two feet out from its head––run toward them with a thick chain wrapped around its hands.
The parents look at each other with the blood drained from their faces. Their children cling to them screaming. The father opens his mouth but can’t find any words. His wife says for him,“Krampus.”
During Christmas time in America the worse that can happen to a naughty child is receiving a lump of coal in his or her stocking. Of course, receiving a gift like that is devastatingly disappointing, but Americans should be thankful the dark side of our Christmas folklore pretty much stops there.
In Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Hungary, the dark side of Christmas is more than bleak. In fact, it’s outright terrifying.
Krampus has risen, fallen, and risen again in popularity in Europe as the Christmas Devil. Finding a new tide of popularity in recent years, several European towns host Krampus Runs which involve people dressing up as the hideous creature and running through the streets of the town. A simple Google search of Krampus yields an impressive display of costumes depicting a hairy goat-main with protruding horns, bloodshot eyes, and fanged teeth. The image of Krampus is reminiscent of the Greek mythological character Pan: a half-man-half-goat pedophile who lures children to come with him.
In Norse Mythology Krampus is said to be the son of Hel––ruler of the dead and daughter of Loki. Another simple Google search of this mythological figure would reveal a woman just as gruesome as her son.
Krampus’s role is to scare children into being nice. If a child continues to be naughty, he or she is taken away. Depending on where you are in Europe, taking away children may mean literally putting the child in a basekt and taking him or her to hell, drowning the child, or punishing the child by swatting him or her with multiple branches at once. It sounds odd that thousands of people would dress up as a creature meant to scare children into being nice to honor a tradition. In the past the Catholic church attempted to ban Krampus from Chrsitmas entirely, but the word didn’t spread well enough from village to village in the Alpines, and today Europeaon culture continues to celebrate Krampus to encorage everyone to be nice.
In the Alsace and Lorraine regions of France, a different kind of Christmas devil threatens children into being good for Santa Claus. Dressed as a scarecrow, Hans Trapp accompanies Santa each Christmas from house to house. While Santa comes bearing gifts, Hans Trapp checks to see if a child has been good or bad that year. If he finds a child has been bad, he takes him or her away with him back to his home in the woods.
Unlike Krampus’s mythological origins, Hans Trapp’s history stems from the 15th century in France. The man was reportedly a real life Ebeneezer Scrooge: greedy, vain, and willing to do anything to ensure his wealth. As he greediness and ill-will consumed him, he eventually worshiped Satan.
When his Satanic dealings were discovered, he was excommunicated from the Catholic church, and ultimately excommunicated from society. People closed their blinds and locked their doors when they saw him walking down the street. Everything he owned and every penny he had to his name was taken from him. Hans Trapp had no other choice but to flee to the mountains to escape furhter persecution.
With no money left to errect even a modest house for himself, he managed to build a shack out of sticks. Rain leaked through the roof. Any fire he built wasn’t warm enough. Food had lost its flavor, yet a new craving set inside him. He continued his Satanic worship, his mind slipping away to madness. As he foraged for sustenance in the woods, he considered bringing in a bigger, tastier score to fill his stomach. Hans Trapp didn’t need money or things to satisfy himself anymore. He needed human flesh.
He set out to an open field and stuffed his ragged clothes with hay. He waited there, pretending to be a scarecrow, until his prey crossed his path. Fog rolled over him and his stomach growled, but he didn’t––wouldn’t give up. Finally a young boy made his way across the field. Hans Trapp took his chance, violently bludgeoning the boy with a sharpened stick. Back at his makeshift shack, he prepared his meal over a fire that finally removed the numbness in his fingers. The fog grew thicker, but he didn’t notice. When a thunder cracked overhead, he didn’t hear it.
He opened his mouth to take his first bite of human flesh, saliva trickling down his chin. Before his meal touched his tongue, however, a bolt of lightning pealed through the sky and struck Hans Trapp dead in less than a second. God had put an end to the scarecrow, and now he roams through snow with Santa, hoping to collect the bad children.
Wherever you’re celebrating Christmas this year, whichever tradition or folklore legend finds you, may it be merry, bright, and devoid of monsters. Make sure to hide all of your brooms on Christmas Eve, beware of the Yule Cat, and always make an extra batch of cookies for Santa. He’s a busy guy.