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The story behind Krampus - Santa's terrifying demonic helper

The mythical alpine creature exists simply to scare children into good behaviour.

I HAVE A vivid memory of my friend hanging off a door horizontally, her nails digging into the wooden frame as a giant, fur-covered beast with demonic red eyes and giant fangs pulled her outside into the cold December night.

A few feet away, a girl was sobbing while a horned monster whipped her.

Kids everywhere were screaming and crying, the Alpine house thrust into chaos as children scampered about seeking safety.

We were 8 years old, and the whole thing was arranged by our parents.

Krampusnacht, or Krampus Night, is an ancient Austrian tradition that is also celebrated in Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic.

Basically, Santa, or Sankt Nikolaus (St. Nicholas), comes around with his devils (or Krampuses) in tow.

He is there to determine whether kids have been naughty or nice. In this case, being naughty has severe consequences: a run-in with his demon assistants.

Let’s take a look at this insane tradition…

kr1 This is Krampus. Santa's little helper is a terrifying demonic beast that helps him deal with naughty kids. He literally exists to scare children straight. Source: Wikipedia

Austria Tradition Most Krampuses have thick fur, sharp horns, cloven hooves, fangs, and a long, pointy tongue. They usually wear loud bells and chains, which they thrash around for effect, and carry a whip or birch branches to beat kids with. Source: Associated Press

AUSTRIA NO ST NICK They also often brandish a basket or sack of some sort, meant to transport kids to hell (or the nearest river). Source: Associated Press

AUSTRIA KRAMPUS PROCESSION Most Alpine towns feature an annual Krampuslauf, or Krampus Run. It usually takes place on December 5, the night before the feast of St. Nicholas. Source: Associated Press

GERMANY KRAMPUS Anyone can dress up as the Krampus. The wooden masks they wear are typically handmade, intricate, and absolutely terrifying. Source: Associated Press

Austria Tradition Increasingly, towns featuring Krampus Runs have had issues with drunken Krampuses getting a little too rowdy. They're known to chase people across town, beating them with their sticks, getting a little too into character ... and you never know who's hiding behind those masks. Source: Associated Press

Austria Tradition Though no one quite knows for certain, this tradition is often believed to have begun when the Moors raided European towns, kidnapping locals and selling them into slavery. Source: Associated Press

Austria Tradition Legend has it the Krampuses' chains symbolise a binding to the devil by the Christian Church, and the birch branches hail from ancient pagan initiation rites. Source: Associated Press

AUSTRIA NO ST NICK Krampus punishes misbehavior. He is the opposite of St. Nicholas, a warm and friendly old man who rewards good kids with candy and gifts. Source: Associated Press

Austria Tradition Parents threaten their kids with Krampus all year long, arranging for him to show up in their homes should their threats go unheeded. Source: Associated Press

Austria Tradition Krampus is so insanely scary that he was actually banned a few times — alternatively by the Catholic Church and the Austrian government, and later during WWII. Source: Associated Press

GERMANY KRAMPUS Krampus has been having a resurgence in Europe recently, and has even caught on in the US. A new Universal Studios movie called Krampus was released in Irish cinemas at the start of the month. Source: Associated Press

Sophie-Claire Hoeller for Business Insider

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