Over the years, we have collected numerous questions about Krampus and our organization.  Here is a selection of our favorites:

What is Minnesota Krampus?

Minnesota Krampus is a non-political, 501c3 educational non-profit with the mission to preserve and promote the tradition of St Nikolaus and his Krampus from the area around the city-state of Salzburg, Austria.  We want others to see and understand the history and beauty of this alpine tradition, and we do this by creating and distributing literature, visiting schools and ethnic festivals, and funding an annual college scholarship.

What is/are Krampus?

Disclaimer: Folk customs have never been static.  The growth and evolution of folk customs create many conflicting opinions regarding the true origin and correct celebration of folk traditions between the practitioners (those focusing on the oral tradition of the last three generations) and academics (those focusing on documented references).  With that said, our tradition comes from the Salzburg tradition:

Krampus is a creature, larger than a man, covered in fur, has large exotic horns (sometimes as many as four or six), and hunts the mountain passes in the eastern alpine realm (in modern-day Austria).  In the Salzburger history, Krampus was part of pre-Christian traditions that represented the harshness and wilderness of winter.  It is believed that during the Christianization period of the area (around 700 A.D.), the popularity of this pre-Christian traditions was so strong that the Catholic church allowed the continued celebration of Krampus, but only if the people would convert to Christianity and if the creature was paired with Sankt Nikolaus.  The tradition is believed to have been commonly celebrated all over Austria until the middle 18th Century, during the Reformation period under Salzburg Archbishop Colloredo, which outlawed any assumed celebration of the devil.  Following this action, the tradition continued (celebrated in secret) with a revival during the industrialization period (as people moved from the countryside into the cities bringing these oral traditions and customs with them), but was again outlawed in the 20th century by the Nazis.  In the 1960s, after the rebuilding of Austria and re-indepedance from the allied powers, Krampus groups started to form in the villages, continuing into the cities as part of the popular culture and eventually went more international in the 1990s-2000s with the internet age.

Who is Sankt Nikolaus or Saint Nicholas?


Disclaimer: Minnesota Krampus acknowledges that the St Nicholas Center does not support, in any way, the existence or celebration of any Saint Nicholas “helper” that could diminish the purity and overall good of the saint.  We support the stance that the holy Saint is the center of our holiday tradition and also recognize the importance of preserving our cultural traditions.  

Our St Nikolaus is the center of our tradition. He determines who has been naughty/nice by his Golden Book and he instructs the Krampus on who is on the naughty list.

Is Krampus only an Austrian or German thing?

No, there are many cultures that have Krampus-like beings in their tradition. Folk cultures referencing “Krampus” include alpine Italians, Slovenians, Croatians, Hungarians, Slovakians, and Czechs. How the Krampus appear can vary significantly between cultures and often rely on materials available to create the costumes.

Why is Krampus paired with St Nikolaus? Why does Krampus wear bells/chains?

In the Salzburger tradition, it is believed that St Nikolaus is paired with Krampus as a compromise to the pagan population during their conversion to Christianity – in exchange for becoming Christian, they were allowed to retain some of their pre-Christian traditions even after conversion. This conversion exchange was commonly used considering other common modern-day traditions during the Christmas and Easter seasons.

According to some traditions, Krampus appears with bells and chains to show servitude to the Saint, while others believe Krampus has a willing partnership with the Saint and that the bells/chains serve as an advanced warning system to naughty children far and wide that the punishments are quick approaching.

Why do you celebrate something so dark?

We think: why not? The main pillars of Germanic folklore (think Grimm’s fairy tales) are graphic tales depicting ‘right’ versus ‘wrong’, and often used to frighten young ones into not making the same mistakes. Just as these fairy tales teach young people valuable lessons about life, St Nikolaus and Krampus personify these lessons with positive and negative reinforcements. These life lessons are present in every culture around the world and, while we choose to share our Austrian traditions, we feel that these lessons are as important for children to learn today as they were hundreds of years ago.

Is Krampus bad or evil?

No, we believe that Krampus is the dedicated servant to St Nikolaus and operates only under the direct instruction (and supervision) of the Saint. It is St Nikolaus who documents who is naughty and who is nice in his Golden Book — Krampus simply carries out St Nikolaus’ instructions.

Is Krampus demonic or satanic?

The answer is no. Satan is a Christian construct and has no foundation in nor part of Germanic Paganism.

With a celebration so dark, Austria must not be a Christian country?

According to the CIA World Factbook on Austria, in 2001, of the 8.8 million inhabitants over 73% self-identify as Roman Catholic. For Salzburgers, Krampus is more of a cultural experience connected with their cultural and historic identity (existed for over 1200 years) than an exercise in religion.

Why does Krampus come at Christmas time? What does this have to do with Christmas?

Krampus is not celebrated as part of Christmas.

St Nikolaus and his Krampus visit the children of Austria on St Nikolaus’ Name Day – December 6th – to give gifts of sweets, treats, and small toys to good children. The fact that both St Nikolaus Tag and Christmas Day are in December doesn’t connect the two celebrations together at all. St Nikolaus (and Krampus) sightings at Christmas Markets (ie. Christkindlsmarkt (Christ child markets) or Adventmarkt (advent season markets)) have more to do with these markets operating from mid-November through Christmas (and some even through the 12 days of Christmas) than a connection to Christmas day itself. Austrians consider the St Nikolaus holiday as a major gift-giving holiday while Christmas is more about religion and family.

Side note: Austrians frequently ask me how and why Americans have “Santa Claus” (whom they recognize is loosely based off of St Nikolaus) play such a major role in the Christmas celebration when the “reason for the season” to Christians have everything to do with Christ and nothing to do with a present giving man with a white beard flying through the sky in a red suit.

During my last trip to a Christmas market, I saw a group of Krampus there. Is that common to see them at Christmas markets around the Alps?

One can find St Nikolaus and his Krampus visiting Christmas/Advent Markets on specific days listed on the market’s calendar of events — often near St Nikolaus Tag (December 6th) or for an ‘alpine traditions expo’ (sometimes referred to as a Krampusschau (or Krampus display)). These visits allow the general public to get an up-close look at St Nikolaus and his Krampus without significant fear of being punished and (if late enough at night) allow the Krampus to take off their masks to enjoy some Glühwein (a traditional hot mulled red wine) and other treats available at the market.

Please note: St Nikolaus and Krampus are not a constant presence at Christmas markets – groups are often invited to visit the market as part of an event or activity. Check out each market’s published schedule of events to determine when is the best time to either see (or not see) Krampus. If you want to find events where you will interact with many different interpretations of Krampus, consider searching for a “Krampuslauf” or “Krampusschau” in a village or area where you’re visiting between mid-November and December 6th.

What is the costume that Krampus wears?

Generally, we acquire all of our costume elements from master craftsmen in Austria. Our masks are carved from wood (stone pine), by hand, by a master woodcarver. The masks are completed by adding detailing paint, attaching real animal horns and long hair, and adding glass eyes. Our suits, in German “das Fell” meaning pelt, come from a long-haired alpine goat and are in their natural colors (reds, grays, speckled whites, and dark browns). To complete the look and sound, we also import our bells/shells so that our Krampus can be heard before they are seen.

Why does Minnesota Krampus also refer to itself as Pig’s Eye Pass?

Krampus organizations in Austria refer to themselves by the fictitious and scary mountain passes they come from or are known to hunt. In the spirit of this tradition, Minnesota Krampus chose to co-brand itself as Pig’s Eye Pass.

Pig’s Eye Landing played an important role in Minnesota history and the location later became known as the Saintly City and Capital of Minnesota, Saint Paul. In honor of our city’s humble beginnings (with squatters and bootleg whiskey), our Pig’s Eye Pass comes from the imaginary mountains of Minnesota around Pig’s Eye Landing. Our uniquely Minnesotan history now has a uniquely Minnesotan Krampus organization.