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Krampus And Knecht Ruprecht - Santa's Alter-ego

Updated on August 15, 2011

Welcome to the dark side

The European tradition of Santa Claus isn't quite as cheery as Americana's jolly old elf. According to many European legends surrounding St. Nicholas, he didn't travel alone.

Krampus, sometimes referred to as the anti-St. Nicholas, was masked or had a blacken face and horns. He was dressed in black rags and demanded proof of a child's worthiness to receive gifts. While St. Nicholas came bearing gifts and treats to good children, Krampus came to warn them not to misbehave and to punish those that did.

You better watch out!


In Austria, the legend of Krampusse is a little bit different. Here tradition has Krampusse as children of the poor. These children, dressed in black rags and wearing masks, drag chains behind them. They wander the streets and sled down snowy hills. When other children pass by, they swing their chains at them to scare them away.

You better not cry!

Krampus in Croatia

The Croatian version of the legend is different still. This devilish creature is laden with chains. He visits the homes of naughty children and takes away the gifts that St. Nicholas has left. Children are warned by their parents that if they don't sleep on the night of St. Nicholas' visit, they will be thrown in Krampus' sack and taken away.


In Hungary the tradition takes on a lighter tone.  Rather than an evil devil, Krampusz is portrayed more as a mischievous imp.  Dressed in black, he has a long red tongue a tail and horns.  On his back he carries a basket full of bunched twigs.  These are called virgacs.  If a child has been naughty he will receive a virgac instead of gifts.  Today, you can buy various versions of the virgac on the streets for several months before Christmas.  Parents give these along with gifts to children to remind them to be good.

Knecht Ruprecht

Knecht Ruprecht

According to some legends, St. Nicholas had a servent.  His name was Knecht Ruprecht.  When St. Nicholas and Ruprecht come to the door, the children are asked to perform tricks, such as dancing or singing.  Good children will receive gifts from St. Nicholas.  Bad children will be beaten by Ruprecht.  If they are really naughty, they will be carried off by him in his sack.  Parents would leave sticks to warn their children to be good, and they would tell them that Ruprecht will take them away if they are really bad.

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Submit a Comment

  • Deborah Brooks profile image

    Deborah Brooks Langford 

    6 years ago from Brownsville,TX

    what A GREAT ARTICLE .. so glad you wrote it.. I did not know all these legends. I loved the pictures... you did a great job. I voted up and very interesting...MERRY CHRISTMAS


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