By Anita Martinz - Perchtenlauf Klagenfurt, CC BY 2.0,

Krampus: The Christmas Devil of Alpine Folklore?

Beware! Lock up your children, clutch your mince pies, and huddle in against the snow. Haven’t you heard? Krampus is coming to town …

As the darkness falls in the snow-filled streets of Alpine Europe, crowds begin to gather. They nervously vie for the best places to see the parade from, but all want a spot where they won’t fall prey to  the vicious beatings meted out by the devils that are about to descend. Unnerved murmurs spread through the crowd as the lights glow red in the smoky air, where even the most level-headed bystander can’t help but think of the fires of hell, as the demons are unleashed on the town. A small boy wanders, cheekily, too close to the railing. His mother reaches for his hand … but it’s too late. Krampus has snatched him up in his clawed hands. The boy is carried off with the parade of fur-clad men, smiling gleefully up into the grimacing face of the creature that now has him, holding on to his curved horns and poking at his fanged teeth. No one is safe from the Perchten when the Krampuslauf is in town.

By Llorenzi - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Krampuslauf in Dobbiaco © Llorenzi


The Krampus run – sometimes called Perchtenlauf – is an annual festival celebrated throughout the Alpine region, from Austria and South Tyrol in Italy, to Slovenia, Hungary, Germany and the Czech Republic. Participants dress up in traditional Perchten costumes, covering themselves in fur, donning horns and the gaping jaws of devils, and cavort through the village streets swatting at bystanders, all the time the cowbells on their backsides jangling like the promise of Santa’s sleigh.

Who are Krampus and the Perchten?

The Perchten are said to be creatures that scare off the spirits of winter, or mountain spirits themselves. The Perchten are seen to be the cohorts of the Krampus, himself the counterpart to Saint Nikolaus – who we might recognise as Father Christmas. Some suggest that Krampus originates from ancient Norse mythology, as the son of the goddess Hel. He is certainly an anti-hero that reminds us of, not just the Devil, but also of the satyrs of Greek myth.
In folklore, Krampus and St. Nikolaus both arrive around December 5th. Children leave out their shoes for Saint Nikolaus, who will fill them with gifts if they have been good, or a rod if they have been naughty. In contrast, Krampus carries a birch bundle to beat naughty children before stuffing them into his basket and carrying them off – some say to his lair to be eaten, while others say to the underworld.

Here’s a selection of some of the best Krampuslauf videos from around Europe …

Rennweg 2016 – Rudi Feistritzer

Graz 2013 (Austria)

Osstirol 2015 (Tyrol, Austria)

St.Ulrich 2014 (South Tyrol, Italy)

Munich 2014


Krampus has gained popularity in recent years, with the tradition spreading as far as the US. Krampus, a horror film bearing the beast’s name, even hit the box-offices last year, although many would argue that it bears little resemblance to the folkloric tradition.

Author Al Ridenour has led the Krampus-resurgence in LA, starting a Krampus carnival in the city, running mask making workshops, and recently releasing a new book, The Krampus and the Old, Dark Christmas: Roots and Rebirth of the Folkloric Devil. Read more about this from Al himself in his #FolkloreThursday article, ‘A Californian Krampus‘.

LA is offering its own antidote to Christmas: Krampuslauf LA (This one is from 2013)

The tradition has a history of controversy. The church tried to ban Krampusnacht as far back as the 12th century. During World War II, Krampus was seen by fascists as a thing of the Social Democrats. Today, the festivities are still considered something to be handled carefully. In recent years, concerns have been raised that refugees who have fled to Austria – including children – might find the parade frightening, as many of us would! Instead of banning the parade, the town of Lienz developed education sessions for the children, to help them understand the origins of the tradition and encourage them get involved in the celebrations.

Whether you love or hate Krampus, it seems he is here to stay, and possibly coming to a town near you very, very soon …

Check out these Krampus Christmas gifts!

Recommended books from #FolkloreThursday



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With a love of the Ladybird fairy tales series, and the stories read to her about the trees and rocks of the forests, Dee Dee's interest in folklore began at an early age. She soon developed a passion for answering the question of who we were, as a species, before we became who we are today, and how our landscapes and our stories shape us. Beginning this journey by exploring theology–focusing on our earliest myths and beliefs in the ancient world, and studying some in the original Latin, Greek and ancient Hebrew–she soon realised that she wanted to dig even deeper. She went on to study archaeology at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, looking at how people construct their identities, and how the landscapes that came before them shape them and their world view. Dee Dee believes that an understanding of people–through both history and place–can help inform the choices we make in our own lives, as individuals and as societies, and ground us more consciously in our deepest motivations. Dee Dee has worked on community heritage outreach projects within museums, galleries, charities and schools, including with the Liverpool International Nordic Community for the Liverpool Capital of Culture, a Viking DNA project, and volunteered with Berber girls in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco during the Arab Spring. She acted as outdoors education manager in a forest school, and was one of four women on the SMT who led the institution to be named the best in the UK. This journey of connecting people through past and present culminated in the creation of #FolkloreThursday. She now spends her time curating weird and wonderful folklore from around the world for digital communities. Recent interviews include BBC Countryfile Magazine,The Independent, Vice UK and BBC World Service. When she's not pondering life, the universe and everything, Dee Dee enjoys walking, travelling and dreaming of French patisseries. Her first book, A Treasury of British Folklore: Maypoles, Mandrakes and Mistletoe, a beautifully illustrated introduction to the strange and varied lore of Britain, is available from National Trust Books. Her second, Treasury of Folklore – Seas and Rivers, co-authored with #FolkloreThursday's Willow Winsham and illustrated by Joe McLaren, is available from Batsford now. Their latest book, Treasury of Folklore – Woodlands and Forests: Wild Gods, World Trees and Werewolves, was released from Batsford in summer 2021. Dee Dee is a member of The Folklore Society. Visit her website here.