Before there was light, there was dark and thus begins the folklore of Krampus celebrated throughout Central Europe and now spreading throughout America’s horror-obsessed fandom. It’s simple. If you are good, Saint Nicholas will reward you with gifts. If you are bad, Krampus will come and take you away.
Some anthropologists date the horned half-man, half-goat demon to pre-Christian times, and like-visages appeared in various cultural holidays alongside the then-emerging Saint Nicholas figure. As Christianity spread, chains appeared on Krampus as a way to bind the devil. He was a fearsome symbol of warning, made more humorous over time and completely absent from America’s holiday celebrations, represented now only by the coal Santa leaves to misbehaved children.
Krampusnacht is celebrated on the night of December 5, prior to the Feast of Saint Nicholas which is celebrated in several European countries on December 6. In modern times, citizens dress up in the furry Krampus costumes, noisy bells, and parade through town looking for the mischievous, carrying a bundle of Birch sticks for whipping, and a basket on their backs to load up the bad children which are taken back to the underworld for munching on later.
The beast was brought to America’s attention with the 2015 feature Krampus, directed by Michael Dougherty, who happened to also create the iconic Halloween movie, Trick ‘r Treat. There have been many Krampus movies since then but none really measure up to the darkly whimsical take that Dougherty perfected.