Krampus as Movie Star

Over the last few weeks, I have seen the trailer for the new Krampus movie on TV and it seems that Krampus is starting to get more well-known in the U.S. I am not into horror movies in general, so I have not considered watching this one (although the reviews have not been as bad as I thought they would be based on the trailer, and it seems that it was the most popular movie based on ticket sales on Friday).

I am worried what Hollywood has done to a traditional figure I have grown up with. Also, it is difficult for me to understand how this figure can be so fear-inspiring to base a whole movie on it – after all, even as a I kid I knew that Krampus was just a dressed up teenager/man. Even more common than the wooden masks with horns, fangs, and long tongue are the much more adorable renditions of the Krampus image on ginger bread, as pastry, or as hollow chocolate figurine.

Krampus Cookies

A Collection of Krampus Cookies on Sale at a Seasonal Market in the US

It is hard to fear something that is not only delicious but also cute with only the slightest mischievous look as most edible renditions of Krampus are. I have always thought that the unknown is much scarier than anything well-known, and I am sure I have eaten more Krampus sweets in my life than I have seen the costume version. So it seems odd to me to choose Krampus as the main concept of a horror movie; now ghosts and possessions à la The Exorcist are a different story but not the grumpy side-kick of St. Nikolaus.



A Pastry Krampus – More Cute than Scary (found on which also includes recipe for these cute guys)

PS: I am curious to see how popular this movie will be in Austria.

St. Nikolaus

St. Nikolaus and Krampus (found on Facebook: Austria Official Travel Info)

December is a busy month for traditions in Austria. Krampus Day on December 5 is followed by Nikolaus Day on December 6. It is the day of St. Nikolaus, and even though the American Santa Claus is modeled after him even in name, they two do not have much in common. St. Nikolaus does bring gifts for the good kids but in the evening of December 6. He was the Bishop of Myra, which is in present-day Turkey, in the fourth century. He is the patron saint for a lot of different groups ranging from students to pirates to prostitutes. I guess he is popular for so many groups to choose him. But the “job” as patron saint for children and students is the reason for the traditions associated with December 6. And because he was a bishop, he is dressed quite differently than Santa Claus. St. Nikolaus wears the robes of a bishop and with that comes a mitre and a pastoral staff. He is usually white-haired and has a long flowing beard but he is usually not chubby like Santa Claus. St. Nikolaus also does not use a flying sleigh with reindeer but walks or rides a horse or a “regular” sleigh. He also does not come through the chimney in the middle of the night, but politely knocks on the door.

St. Nikolaus usually is accompanied by Krampus, a demon-like beast to scare the naughty children (see yesterday’s post). Nikolaus usually asks the parents if the children have been good, and if the answer is yes, Krampus is asked to wait outside the door where he hollers and rattles his chains to warn children to behave all year. Once Krampus is banished, Nikolaus usually asks the children to recite a poem or sing a carol for him before he takes gifts out of his large bag. Since he is really carrying the bag and the gifts, the gifts are usually chocolate, apples, oranges, and possibly books or other small items. To remind children again that Krampus is always watching, a small bundle of birch twigs is included in the gift as well (see yesterday’s post about the birch twigs).

Postcard Showing St. Nikolaus and Krampus (found on Wikipedia Commons)

If the parents did not rent a Nikolaus to come to the house, children still receive gifts though. Little bags or shoes are left by the door and are filled with the gifts once it is evening. The few years when Nikolaus did not come to our house, my mom would ask us into the kitchen and close the door behind us. We would hear the rattling of chains outside the door and my father’s voice as he was supposedly addressing Krampus to tell him that only good kids were living here. My brother and I stood by the door and were straining to hear every word and hoping that Krampus would not be allowed into the kitchen. A few minutes later, we were allowed to leave the kitchen, and lo and behold, there were gifts in our boots!

Even though children receive small gifts on December 6, they will receive more gifts on Christmas, which is celebrated in the evening of December 24. But there is no confusion between St. Nikolaus and Santa Claus in case you are wondering because we do not have Santa Claus. Christmas gifts are brought by the Christkind in Austria (literally: Christ Child), an angel.

St. Nikoalus Is Shown as the Original and Santa Claus as the Imitation (found on: – which means Santa-Claus-Free Area)

Krampus Day – Demons Rule the Streets

St. Nikolaus and Krampus (found on

“Be Good!” could be the motto for December 5, which is traditionally Krampus Day in Austria. The day is also celebrated in other Alpine regions such as Bavaria and South Tyrol. Krampus is a beast-like demonic creature and the “side-kick” of Saint Nikolaus; Krampus punishes the naughty children while St. Nikolaus rewards the good ones. Krampusse are furry, have horns and a lolling tongue, and carry a bundle of birch branches to swat the kids.

For small children, Krampusse [German plural form of the term Krampus] are truly frightening; for teenagers, they are a challenge to dare each other and show their bravery. As soon as it is dark out, which is usually mid-afternoon in early December in Austria, the Krampusse take over the streets. They run in packs through the streets for hours and are trying to chase anyone, but especially kids and young women. When I was in elementary school, I hated the day and did not want to leave the house when it was getting close to darkness. From the safety of the inside of a locked car or form inside a house, I would watch the Krampusse run through the streets. I could hear the sound of chains and large bells that the Krampusse carry before I could even see them. Later as a teenager, I would walk into town on purpose with friends to dare each other to get as close as possible to one of the Krampusse and then run away quickly without being swatted with the birch branches by a Krampus. The fear was much worse than the pain from the branches since we were wearing layers of clothes and thick winter coats because of the cold.

Krampus and Child (found on

Usually young males are wearing the costume of Krampus, and it must be strenuous to wear the wooden masks with large animal horns and fangs, be completely clothed in furs, and carry large bells around their waists. Last year, I came across an entertaining article by an American, who worked as a Krampus in Austria for a night; see the posting here:

Krampus Day also means special treats such as Zwetschgenkrampus, a Krampus made out of prunes (which is a lot tastier than it sounds), and Semmelkrampus, a sweet bread shaped like a Krampus. For one day, demons rule the streets in Austria.

Semmelkrampus – Krampus out of Sweet Bread (found on

Zwetschgenkrampus – Krampus out of Prunes and Figs (found on