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A scary week for children as Krampus goes on the hunt

By Maddy French

Feeling scared is not something most children would associate with Christmastime, but in early December an evil Christmas spirit called Krampus gives Austrian children a very good reason to be wary.

A figure from old Germanic folklore, Krampus is a side-kick of the generous present-giving St Nicholas. But rather than a cuddly reindeer or friendly elf, Krampus is not something children want to come across on a dark wintry evening. Sent by St Nicholas to punish naughty children, Krampus can normally be found sporting demonic horns or antlers on top of a gruesome, hairy and goat-like figure. In the first week of December he spends the nights scouring towns for children who he can catch and beat with branches from a birch tree, like a character straight out of a Brothers Grimm tale.

Although Krampusnacht formally lands on 5 December, when Krampus is said to accompany St Nicholas to households to reward good children and punish the naughty, processions of men dressed up in scary cloven-hoofed costumes through towns in Austria and other Alpine regions have been happening all week. As well as the obligatory frightening of children, Krampusnachts also usually involve copious amounts of drinking and debauchery for the adults and can carry on late into the night.

At various times in history, Krampus festivities have been met with controversy and protest. Unpopular with the Catholic Church, efforts to stamp out celebrations of the devil like goat figure were made in the Roman Catholic inquisition period. Later in the 20th Century, Krampus festivities were banned by Chancellor Dollfuss after the Austrian Civil War and as recent as 2006, an Austrian child psychologist argued the violence and demonic imagery associated with Krampus celebrations was not suitable for children and there should be a ban on Krampus.

Despite protestations, Krampus very much lives on but that doesn't mean it's all bad news for misbehaving children: an abundance of chocolate Krampus figures, sweets and cards in the shops around this time of year means there is still a chance for even the naughtiest of kids to get a treat.

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