For a walk on the wilder side of the holiday season, try Yuletide. As it’s re-enacted in Central Europe, Yuletide hearkens back to ancient European traditions of a much darker, scarier nature than we usually associate with holiday . . . cheer?

A member of the Haiminger Krampusgruppe dressed as the Krampus creature, in rams’ skins and a mask complete with curly ram’s horns, glaring eyes, an enormous nose and a snarling mouth with fangs, carries a “delinquent” little boy. Tradition says the Krampus will now take him to Hell to transform him into the demon-like Krampus. This event took place on the town square during their annual Krampusnacht in Tyrol, on December 1, 2013 in Haiming, Austria.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images, courtesy of The Atlantic.

Think You’re Ready to try Yuletide? Meet Krampus.

Forget the bogeyman. Krampus is the terrifying opposite of St. Nicholas’ sweetness and light. He, too, carries a sack–but his is NOT full of toys and candy.  He uses it to capture naughty children and carry them off to Hell.

Yikes!

The magazine The Atlantic recently posted an online slideshow of images of costumed “Krampus” figures that are a feature of Yuletide festivities in Central Europe. I chose several to share with you here, but for more explanations and images I urge you to see the whole show.

A member of the Haiminger Krampusgruppe dressed as Krampus hits a fire to release sparks on the town square during their annual Krampusnacht in Tyrol, on December 1, 2013. This photo captures his goatish shape and elaborate horns in silhouette by the flying sparks and flames of the fire pit, wreathed in smoke.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images, courtesy of The Atlantic.
A participant dressed as Krampus walks the streets in search of delinquent children during Krampusnacht on November 30, 2013 in Neustift im Stubaital, Austria. Krampus is a demon-like creature represented by a fearsome, hand-carved wooden mask with animal horns, a suit made from sheep or goat skin and large cow bells attached to the waist that the wearer rings by running or shaking his hips up and down. Photographer Sean Gallup caught this one against a billow of fire-orange smoke.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images, courtesy of The Atlantic.
A man dressed as Krampus, during a traditional Krampus procession in St. Martin near Lofer in Salzburg province, Austria, on December 5, 2009. His goatskins are all dark gray. His white mask, demon-like, red-slashed face, and jagged fangs make him a fearsome sight in the darkness of the Austrian night.
AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson, courtesy of The Atlantic.

The Scariest way to Try Yuletide? By Firelight!

The men in the Krampus outfits spend hundreds of euros for their elaborate traditional costumes. Clearly lots of time and thought goes into these annual traditions. The lighting effects of torches and bonfires in the night add to Krampus figures’ menacing appearance. How many future years of therapy do you think these guys have inspired?

Scary as they may seem in the right light, The guys who design and wear these costumes probably have a load of fun doing it. I have friends who delight in putting on elaborate productions to “haunt” their yards or porches for Halloween. They have kindred spirits in the Alps, I’m sure.

You can’t tell me the guy with the “devil go-kart” didn’t build it in his garage and chortle over how cool it looks in the dark. And as for the “Krampus chariot rides”? What a rush! If you’re going to try Yuletide in its darker traditions, why not go all-in?

A participant dressed as Krampus parades past onlookers on his Krampus vehicle on November 30, 2013 in Neustift im Stubaital, Austria. The machine appears to be an ATV with headlight and a glowing, horned cow skull (with glowing eyes) mounted on the front, bedecked with long-haired goat skins.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images, courtesy of The Atlantic.
A member of the Haiminger Krampusgruppe pulls another on a fiery cart to the town square during the annual Krampusnacht in Haiming, Austria, on December 1, 2013.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images, courtesy of The Atlantic.

Try Yuletide’s “Wild Side” – But Keep a Little “St. Nicholas” in Your Heart

Scary and fearsome as they look, these guys clearly seem to be in it for the fun. Children photographed in the story may look occasionally taken aback, but they’re mostly wise to the make-believe. They know that inside the fur and under the horns, the spirit of St. Nicholas lingers in the hearts of ordinary guys who love putting on a helluva show.

Yuletide blessings to all . . . but watch out for old Krampus!

Prior to Krampusnacht on November 30, 2013 in Neustift im Stubaital, Austria, some 20 participants who arrived by bus gather in a snowy park area. Most are dressed in their goat-skin coats but without their Krampus masks, Amid this "Krampus goat herd" one participant has only half-donned his furs. He's still wearing a red-and-white "St. Nick" hat with its white puffball top bobbing at the top of a curly red spring. Even inside "Krampus," the spirit of St. Nicholas lives on.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images, courtesy of The Atlantic.

About the Author

Author Jan S. Gephardt wrote this post in 2013. In 2023 she updated the photo formats for mobile devices and adjusted the wording some to mesh with contemporary SEO standards. Jan is the Chief Cat-Herder, Manager of Weirdness, Art Director, and Marketing Director for Weird Sisters Publishing LLC. She is the author of the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy, humorous science fiction mystery novels about a pack of sapient police dogs who live on a space station.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to The Atlantic for bringing all these photos and more together in their wonderful article by Alan Taylor. Most of the photos are by photographer Sean Gallup/Getty Images, except for the AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson. See cutlines for which is which. Many thanks to all!