5th December, Krampus
Krampus is a mythological creature or demon, particular to parts of eastern and northern Europe, especially Austria and Hungary. He accompanies Saint Nicholas during the Christmas season, warning and punishing bad children (in contrast to St. Nick, who gives gifts to good children). Due to German and Austrian influence, the myth of Krampus is also prevalent in Croatia, (Czecho)Slovakia, Slovenia and northern Italy.
The word Krampus originates from the Old High German word for claw (Krampen). Traditionally, young men dress up as Krampus in the first two weeks of December, particularly on the evening of 5th December (St Nicholas’ Eve, known in German as ‘Krampusnacht’), and roam the streets frightening children and women with rusty chains and bells. In some rural areas, the tradition also includes birching – corporal punishment with a birch rod – by Krampus, especially of young girls.
Images of Krampus usually show him with a basket on his back used to carry away bad children and dump them into the pits of Hell. He is occasionally shown with wings (though not here!) and usually with two different sorts of feet, one cloven and the other taloned.
In old Czechoslovakia, Krampus is known as “Cert” and here I have shown him trawling the streets of Prague this very night! Don’t worry about the child in Cert’s basket – he has been very naughty and had many stern warnings from his grandparents, so he had it coming!
Illustration copyright © Paul Bommer