Almost every culture has a depiction of the “anti-Santa,” or an evil Santa, but one of the most popular and persistent in the United States is that of Krampus. Per History, Krampus actually originated in Austria as part of an old Alpine legend. Kids who were naughty during the year would have to face this lumbering half-man half-goat who would hit them with sticks or shove them in a bag in Grinch-like fashion and carry them off for punishment.
In the Alpines and parts of Germany, they celebrated “Krampus night,” or “Krampusnacht,” where adults would dress up as the monster and frighten kids. This event is still practiced today, although it’s used more as a way for adults to blow off some steam during the holiday stress.
It’s not surprising then that in America, there are now all sorts of Krampus-themed events near the holidays, including Christmas haunted houses themed around the creature, pub crawls, parades, and more. These events likely stem from the original idea of Krampusnacht. While Krampus was originally envisioned as a way to terrify children, it has since been reclaimed by adults who want to enjoy something a little dark and twisted during Christmas time.
How the creature became mainstream in the U.S. isn’t entirely known. He started appearing on postcards and greeting cards in the early 20th century but didn’t show up in the states until almost a century later, History reports.
"That changed in 2004, when art director and graphic designer Monte Beauchamp published a book of Krampus cards and helped organize an art show inspired by the cards."
While it’s not proven that Beauchamp was behind the American obsession, it could be that when those cards started to circulate worldwide, the legend spread with them.
Krampus in pop culture
Krampus has firm roots in pop culture today as there are countless low-budget and indie horror films featuring the creature along with the 2015 horror-comedy starring Toni Collette and Adam Scott from Universal Pictures.
He also pops up repeatedly in animated specials and cartoons such as Scooby-Doo!, Robot Chicken, Venture Bros., and American Dad. But many live-action series have also featured Krampus, Supernatural touched on the legend in “A Very Supernatural Christmas” and a version of him shows up in the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina special, too.