National Geographic : 2009 Dec
PHOTO: MICHAEL DALDER, REUTERS/CORBIS CULTURE Merry Krampus? A wild Christmas character is making a devilish comeback. Krampus gets his name from a word for "claw." That's apt for a demon said to grab naughty children and stuff them in his sack. Popular in Alpine villages centuries ago, Krampus scared kids straight---his long red tongue upped the fear factor---and taught them that evil bows before good. He served Santa's forerunner, kindly St. Nicholas, who had "the power to send Krampus back to hell," says Austrian ethnologist Ulrike Kammerhofer-Aggermann. Europe once had a roster of Christmas rascals like Krampus, many with pagan roots. And Yule was a lot like today's Halloween, partly because farmers had time off from chores and could party with abandon. On December 5, the eve of St. Nick's feast day, folks would bang on doors for food and drink. But by the 1800s, church leaders had marginalized Krampus. Now he's enjoying a mini-revival, mainly for the fun of it. The Austrian state of Salzburg alone has 180 Krampus clubs, more than half set up since 1990, says Josef Moser, Jr., chairman of Austria's Krampus Museum. Revelers roam streets in Krampus garb, rattle bells, and roar. "It feels good!" says Moser. Alas, some drink, brawl, even riot---frightening kids and adults alike. ---Marc Silver HOLIDAY THREAT On this vintage card Krampus is St. Nicholas's driver. Switches in the quiver were meant to keep bad kids in line. Animal horns adorn Krampus costumes worn during pre-Christmas revelry in Munich, Germany.