The Truth About Krampus

As the European tradition of Krampus enters the American consciousness, folks start to wonder why the Krampus depicted on Victorian ephemera resembles the classic description of the devil, while the people who dress up as Krampus every December look more like yetis or some other monster animal. In fact, Krampus looks different in every European region!

So, what should Krampus look like? Al Ridenour, the director of the upcoming Krampusfest in Los Angeles, explains the different looks by giving us the history of the Krampus tradition.  

Long before the circulation of any postcards standardizing the image, the isolating Alpine terrain of Krampus’ native habitat encouraged strong regional variations. And without any grounding source text to nail down his appearance, the original Krampus would have been a shapeless bogeyman defined only by oral tradition, a freeform figure variously described by parents and other storytellers. Like the Tooth Fairy, he had a definitive function, but no definitive form.

Whenever the first adults — through whatever combination of playfulness and cruelty — decided to dress up as the first Krampus, they would have created a monster defined by whatever easily available materials could be used for a startling effect. In some cases those materials were the horns and pelts of mountain goats, and in others, straw or hay set aside as winter fodder. Today, though some costumes may be produced by mass production, they still imitate the look established by materials regionally available in Alpine valleys.

The earliest written descriptions of Krampus surfaced in the 17th century, although the custom, under various names, pre-dates Christianity. Learn about those early versions of Krampus and decide for yourself what The Krampus should look like, after you read about them at Atlas Obscura.

(Image credit: Flickr user leo.laempel)


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