Krampusnacht, or Krampus Night, is a celebration that dates back hundreds of years to Europe, where it was popular in Germany. It was suppressed for years, being forbidden at times by the Catholic Church, as well as by fascists in Europe during World War II. Interest in Krampusnacht, and in Krampus, the character it deals with, has grown over the past century. There has been a resurgence in Germany, particularly in the state of Bavaria, as well as in the Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, and Slovenia. Popularity has also increased in the United States.
The day is based on Krampus, a mythical beast that is half-demon and half-goat. Characteristically similar to some creatures in Greek mythology, it has fangs, horns, cowbells on its waist, and a switch made of birch sticks meant for whipping or swatting naughty children. The harshness of its appearance is fitting, as Krampus comes from the German word "krampen," which means claw.
According to folklore, on the evening of December 5, Krampus punishes children who have been bad by whipping them with his switch. He then takes them to his lair. He is the counterpart to St. Nicholas, a European gift giver who arrives the following day. He is also contrasted with Santa, who rewards those who have been good and are on his "nice" list.
People have been dressing up in ways similar to Krampus for centuries. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, masked devils were used at winter church plays. On Krampusnacht in modern times, men dress up in Krampus costumes made of sheepskin. Women sometimes dress up as a Nordic figure named Frau Perchta. Parades and parties take place. There is also often a Krampuslauf—or Krampus Run—where people run through the streets near people dressed up as Krampus.
The day has increasingly become commercialized. Krampus has appeared on cards and ornaments. He has also been in books, graphic novels, television shows, video games, and movies.
Krampusnacht, also known as Krampus Night, is observed next on Saturday, December 5th, 2020. It has always been observed annually on December 5th.
How to Observe
Many Krampus parades and festivals are held across the United States. Check to see if a nearby city is having one. You could also have your own Krampusnacht party where you dress up as Krampus, perhaps even wearing a mask you made yourself. As the day has become more commercialized, Krampus has appeared in many types of entertainment, which could be explored today as well. For example, you could watch the film Krampus.
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