“You better watch out, You better not cry,
You better not pout, I’m telling you why: He’s making a list, And checking it twice,
Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.
He sees you when you’re sleeping,
He knows when you’re awake.
He knows when you’ve been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake!”
Krampus does not come to reward, but to punish.
The word “Krampus” is derived from the Old High German word krampen, meaning “claw.” According to Norse mythology, Krampus is the son of Hel, the goddess ruler of the underworld. There are also a few physical similarities between Krampus and Greek mythical creatures like the horns and hoofs of satyrs and fauns.
According to the centuries-old legends, if a child misbehaved, Saint Nicholas would know and send his associate, Krampus. Legends of him can be found in the Alpine regions, Austria, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic. Described as “half-goat, half-demon”, during the Christmas season, punished children who have misbehaved, in direct contrast with Saint Nicholas, who rewards the good with gifts. Most tales describe his appearance as hairy, usually brown or black, cloven hooves, horns of a goat, fangs, and a long pointed tongue that lolls out. He carried chains, thought to symbolize the binding of the Devil by the Christian Church. The chains are sometimes accompanied with bells of various sizes. Other tales describe that he carried bundles of birch branches that he would swat children with. Some tales had him carry a sack or a basket strapped to his back. This is to cart off evil children for drowning, eating, or transport to Hell. Some of the older versions make mention of misbehaved children being put in the bag and taken to hell for a year.
On Krampus Night, or Krampusnacht, the eve of December 5, German children took care to not attract the attention of the intimidating beast. If they did not, St. Nicholas would bring presents on Nikolaustag, December 6 .
Families traditionally exchanged colorful greeting cards, called Krampuskarten. Since the 1800s these featured the sometimes silly, sometimes sinister Krampus. In the early 20th century Krampus was prohibited by the Austrian Fascist government, but the tradition was revived with the fall of the government after World War II. In traditional parades and in such events as the Krampuslauf, young men dressed as Krampus participate; such events occur annually in most Alpine towns.