There are many dark sides to the legend of Santa Claus and many are tied to secondary characters, often elf-like in nature, who play bad cop to Santa’s good cop. In the Alpine regions of Austria, northern Italy and other parts of Europe the sinister character of Krampus is celebrated on the eve of St. Nicholas’ coming (December 6th).
Krampus is a hell-bound demon whose sole intent is to terrorize naughty children and women on the streets after dark. He sports horns, cloven hooves and a long, monstrous tongue. He is often depicted as a hairy beast. Krampus punishes naughty children, swatting them with switches and rusty chains before dragging them in baskets to a fiery place below. He often wears chains and sometimes bells are attached to the chains.
The known origins of the specific Krampus tradition are not entirely clear but it is believed to be an elevated celebration of the wild side of the ancient pagan practice of celebrating the Winter Solstice, when roles were reversed and raucous partying took place prior to celebrating the expulsion of evil by the rising sun.
Over time the Austrian government has tried to tame the Krampus tradition which sometimes gets out of hand.