Later this week, on the eve of Saint Nicholas day, hundreds of demon-faced creatures will descend upon the snowy streets of Alpine countries, rattling chains and bells in preparation for capturing naughty children and carrying them away on Krampusnacht. Fearsome and caprine, the bestial horror most commonly known as the Krampus is a holdover from early Germanic folklore; horned, hairy, cloven-hooved, with a long, pointed tongue and carrying chains and birch switches or whips.
Despite periodic condemnation in the middle ages and more recently in the early 20th century, the Krampus merged with Catholic traditions of veneration of saints in the 1600’s, pairing up with Saint Nicholas to become a staple of holiday celebrations across European countries from Germany and Austria south and east to Croatia. While Saint Nicholas is a kindly (if austere) figure bearing gifts for good children, the Krampus is his devilish companion, responsible for the punishment of naughty children, binding them with chains or stuffing them in baskets, occasionally dragging the naughtiest away to be drowned or eaten.
Today, many European cities and towns celebrate Krampusnacht with a Krampuslauf or Krampus Run, where revelers dressed as shaggy Krampus devils parade through wintery streets, cavorting, ringing bells, and drinking schnapps. In recent years, Krampuslauf-type celebrations have grown in popularity in North America, with festivities in cities stretching from New Hampshire to California.
Since the 19th century, Krampus cards or Krampuskarten bearing the slogan Gruß vom Krampus (“Greetings from the Krampus”) were a popular way to send holiday wishes. In honor of this week’s traditional Krampus celebration, enjoy this gallery of vintage Krampuskarten and Krampuslauf revelers, and don’t forget to be good, kittens…unless, of course, you are looking forward to a visit from the Krampus this year.
For more on Krampus festivities in the United States, visit Atlas Obscura. For all things Krampus, check out Krampus.com. For not-so-vintage Krampus art and gear, check out the artwork of Melita Curphy.