Shaw (Watha T. Daniel) Library


When the Naughty Get a Little More Than Coal for Christmas

Krampus: The Yule LordDC Public Libraries has recently acquired Krampus: The Yule Lord, a beautifully illustrated novel based on the legend of Krampus, the dark lord of Yuletide festivites. We thought we would take this opportunity to give a brief history of this very interesting holiday character.

If you’ve been on Facebook or Youtube in the past two years, you might have seen a few posts trickle through during the holiday season related to Krampuslaufen (Krampus runs). These posts depict a rag-tag crew of sometimes frightening (and sometimes adorable) demons slithering through the foggy streets of a sleepy little town to take part in a macabre festival of lights. How does this relate to Christmas? Is this just another excuse to dress up in scary costumes? What does it all mean!?

The modern-day Krampuslauf is a celebration of an ancient Germanic Yuletide tradition involving Saint Nikolaus and Krampus. Saint Nikolaus (as you probably guessed) is the progenitor of our modern day Santa Claus, and Krampus was his bad guy tag-along. Similar in purpose to the original Grimm’s Fairy Stories, tales of Krampus were used to frighten children into good behavior. If a child behaved throughout the year, Saint Nikolaus would bring rewards in the form of Yuletide gifts. If, on the other hand, a child was particularly naughty, Krampus would come in the dead of night and haul him away in a sack. Destination: NOT the kids’ dinner table at Grandma's house.

Though there have been many attempts over the centuries by ruling governments and religions to eradicate this traditional practice, it has survived in pockets, particularly in Austria and Eastern Europe. Krampusnacht (Night of Krampus) and the associated Krampuslaufen have enjoyed a booming Renaissance in the past few decades, and have become particularly popular stateside within the past two to three years.

In addition to checking out Krampus: The Yule Lord, you can find a full text transcript and audio clip of NPR's Weekend Edition special on a homegrown Krampuslauf in Philadelphia in our Literature Resource Center.

Finally, here is a Pinterest board with some external sources of Krampus culture to amuse and frighten all, including videos of modern Krampuslaufen, Krampus art through history, and Krampus greeting cards for that not-so-angelic friend.

This holiday season, you better watch out. You better not cry. Krampus is coming to town.
--Jesse Sigman