The Christmas War on Krampus

Krampusnacht! Roberto Vazquez/Creative Commons

You're familiar with everybody's favorite Alpine holiday demon, right?

Krampus is the "bad cop" opposite to dreary Saint Nicholas. He's a furry, horned, kidnapping, tongue-lolling pagan man-beast and he's a traditional aspect of the holidays in Austria, as well as parts of Germany and Italy. He's the stuff of postcards and wild costumed romps through city streets.

Anyway, with all the regular media hoopla about a supposed "war on Christmas," it's worth noting that there is and was a war on Krampus as well.

Krampus terrorizes in this 1910 Viennese postcard
Imagno/Getty Images

As Josh Clark points out in this blog post, the Nazis attempted to "steal Christmas" back in the day. We're talking swastika-shaped cookie-cutters and everything. They tried to take the "Christ" out of Christmas and replace him with the Norse God Odin. Check out David Gordon Smith's excellent Spiegel article for more on this.

But let's get back to Krampus. Since the Nazis were all about casting out Christianity and embracing the old gods, you'd think that German-speaking socialists of the 1930s would be cool with pagany old Krampus. But not so, according to a Dec. 23, 1934 New York Times article headlined "Krampus Disliked in Fascist Austria."

Now remember, Nazi Germany didn't roll up Austria till 1938. Austrofascism was the rule of the day and, unlike the Nazis, they were heavily Catholic.

The Austrian government outlawed Krampus entirely -- and it's worth noting that, according to the NYT article, Krampus had virtually usurped the role of prime gift giver from Santa at the time. It was the demon, not the old man, who made the rounds with sweets and gifts.

The socialists wanted no part of this. They even questioned his communist leanings. He's red, isn't he? They ordered anyone in a Krampus costume arrested on sight. Festive Krampus dances were outlawed as well. They even required that all Santa Clauses be licensed by the state -- and monitored. I wonder if they just wanted to make sure no red-faced demons were hiding behind those beards and trying to sneak in a little Krampus action.

The war on Krampus continues into modern times. According to a 2006 report from Reuters, concerned parents and one child psychologist spoke out against the demon's violent influence, as well as so-called childhood "Krampus trauma" (of which there are very few cases). What made the situation particularly interesting was that while Santa was banned from visiting kindergartens in Vienna, Krampus apparently still had access to the kiddies. Thus the outrage.

Want more images of the holiday demon? Then dive into HSW's Krampus Gallery of Holiday Doom!

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.