The Christmas Demon

“Christmas didn’t get to be the number one holiday by being about love.”—Milhouse Van Houten


We all know Scrooge and the Grinch and the Winter Warlock and the Burgermeister Meisterburger and the Abominable Snowmonster and Walmart and maybe even Mr. Teatime.* You probably think that these Noelic nightmares are the worst collection of holiday villains ever assembled outside of Halloween.  You may have even been frightened by some of them as a child. In reality, these Christmas clowns are nothing but a collection of stocking blocking Yuletide pansies. All of these perennial second-stringers pale in comparison to Krampus, the original Christmas demon.

Man in a Krampus costumeWith his furry body, cloven hooves and goat’s head, it isn’t hard to figure out where Krampus (Old German for “claw”) came from. He is obviously based on the same Horned God of the European pagans that the early Christians transformed into the Devil. Krampus has typically been associated with Northern and Eastern European countries, but his popularity has been spreading of late. Exactly how he came to be associated with St. Nicholas and Christmas isn’t entirely clear, but it should come as no surprise. Other than Jesus, pretty much everything about our Christmas celebrations come from pagan traditions connected with the Winter Solstice (decorating trees, wreaths of holly, mistletoe, getting hammered and making out with the guy from the mailroom at the company solstice party, etc.)

By some accounts, the Horned God’s association with the solstice is that it was his birthday – in the most literal sense of the word. Every year he would be born on the day of the solstice. Then at some point he would impregnate his counterpart, the Mother Goddess, and then die, only to be born again from her the following winter, thus  making him his own father, grandfather, great grandfather, etc., and also meaning that he was having kids with his mother. Pretty creepy and gross, but incest and morally (not to mention genetically) questionable procreational practices are nothing new for gods. They were generally an incestuous and sexually amoral bunch of horndogs, regardless of the various cultures from which they hailed. Freud wasn’t nearly as far off the mark as most people consider him to be these days, at least as far as gods are concerned. The Oedipus/Elektra complex was alive and well amongst the deities, but I digress.

Our story really begins back in the Middle Ages (cue swirling harp effect)…

For some reason, St. Nicholas experienced a surge in popularity in Germany during the 10th century. Being the patron saint of children and a noted giver of gifts, it’s not difficult to figure out how giving kids presents and candy became a St. Nicholas Day tradition. Over time, particularly in Western Europe, Nicholas became more associated with Christmas than his own holiday. He was eventually transformed into Father Christmas in England and Santa Claus in America. With the westernization of all of Europe, this trend has continued to spread up to the present time, although St Nicholas’ Day is still celebrated as its own holiday in some countries, mostly in parts of Germany, Austria and Eastern Europe.

Krampus stuffing a boy in a basketAlong with Nicholas, Krampus has gradually become associated more with Christmas as well, but he was also originally connected with the December 6th celebration of the saint. On St. Nick’s Eve (Krampusnacht), Krampus would roam the streets, rattling his chains, ringing bells and carrying bundles of birch tree branches to beat naughty children with. In some of the harsher versions of the story (I’m guessing it’s the ones from Germany), he also carries a basket to stuff the truly rotten kids into and then takes them off to his lair in the Black Forest where he either drowns or eats them, or he just bypasses all of that and takes them straight to Hell.

The watered-down, modern version of Krampus usually rides shotgun with St. Nicholas on his sleigh on Christmas Eve and hands out the birch sticks (or coal) to bad children instead of using them to give the brats a beating. Meanwhile, Nick gives gifts to the good boys and girls, and watching the other kids get presents while you get a stick probably hurts worse than any whipping. In other places, the demon gives bundles of branches to all of the families so that parents have something to remind their kids what they’re going to get next Christmas if they don’t behave themselves.

Despite this fairly recent wimpification of Krampus, he has nevertheless shown a real toughness and staying power over the years. He has survived the Catholic Inquisitions, being outlawed by the Nazis, and ongoing attacks from both Christian fundamentalists, who don’t like having a devil around on Jesus’ birthday, and the political correctness police, who think that swatting bad kids with sticks and not giving them presents is bad for their self-esteem. At least he doesn’t drown them anymore.

For those of you who prefer drunken mayhem to a more conventional celebration, you might want to spend the next holiday season in a place where they observe Krampuslaufen – a sort of alcohol-fueled running of the devils and fairies based on the Germanic legend of the perchten.** This may include women dressed in white and men wearing demonic masks as well as plenty of Krampus impersonators roaming through the streets. It’s traditional for spectators to offer the revelers schnapps, thereby insuring that things will get completely out of hand. They may also invite some of the beasts into their homes to scare the screaming blue Jesus out of their children. You gotta love those wacky Euros.


The popularity of Krampus began to spread outside of Germanic and Slavic countries in the late 1800s with the birth of the greeting card industry. Suddenly people all over Europe and North America were getting Christmas cards from their Eastern European friends and family members bearing the likeness of Krampus rather than Jesus or Santa Claus. This practice has kept up with the times, and you can now get free Krampus e-cards at, so it’s not too late to horrify and confuse your loved ones this holiday season. 

Despite all of this, Krampus remains largely unknown in most of the U.S. Places where he is included in the holiday festivities are mostly in the Northeast in communities with a strong German heritage. This desperately needs to change. There’s an army of children in this country who definitely need a whack on the ass from a demon with a stick a lot more than they need a new iPad or gaming system.

Krampus cardHas there ever been a more entitled generation of children than the ones walking around America today? The so-called millennials are already the most spoiled bunch of adult brats that any of us have ever seen. Even back in the Dark Ages when I was a kid, I knew that it didn’t matter what I did during the year. On Christmas morning, there were still going to be presents from Santa under the tree, and look how I turned out. I’m publicly advocating for child abuse. Have I no decency?

So this year, why not introduce your kids to Krampus, the Christmas elf that we all know they’ve got coming. Grüss vom Krampus everyone!


*If this is the first you’ve heard of Hogfather, there’s still time to check out the video. While Hogswatch is primarily the Discworld’s version of Christmas, it’s also their New Year’s celebration, so you’ve got a couple of weeks before the season has officially passed.

**Which is why it’s called Perchtenlaufen in some places.

and all the devils are here


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