Most people know the story of St Nicholas, more commonly known as Santa Claus, who delivers gifts to children on Christmas morning. Many don’t know his sidekick.
This year, a man in Yellowknife has taken the role of Krampus – a horned creature who delivers coal to naughty children – to help bring back the spirit of Christmas, something he feels was missing around town.
Leading up to December 25, he said he had a full week of visiting children who had been misbehaving.
He reached out to Cabin Radio to share his story – and caution Yellowknifers to remember the true meaning of Christmas.
Want to learn how to stay off of his naughty list? Here’s our full interview with the Yellowknife Krampus himself.
The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Megan Miskiman: What is the history of Krampus?
Krampus: Krampus is rooted in Austrian Pagan folklore, and so he predates Christianity. They saw it fit to pair him up with old St Nicholas, so together, St Nicholas and I historically approach Christmas together. St Nicholas rewards the good children and Krampus deals with the naughty children. Basically, Krampus is what we would call the original naughty list. I have a few things in my arsenal but that is my primary role.
Krampus serves as a reminder to girls and boys – and adults – to remember what the Christmas season means, and it’s a caution. It’s to keep the light on, to keep the flame alive for humanity. There’s a giant Krampus parade in Austria every year, where Krampuses from all around the world gather to celebrate what they call Krampusnacht. I’m looking forward to traveling to Austria to join my brethren in the future.
In a lot of images of Krampus and St Nicholas, Krampus is in chains, he’s got chains on his wrist. It kind-of looks like he’s going to imprison people, but really those chains represent Christian dominance over the pagan. They’re two entities, one is Christian and one is pagan, but the symbolism shows St Nicholas being in control of Krampus. It is important to note that I am a pre-Christian Krampus. I am chainless and boundless.
What is Krampus doing in Yellowknife this year?
I only come when the Christmas spirit is dissipating, when people forget the true meaning of Christmas. During Covid, in some conversations with St Nicholas, we had determined that the Christmas spirit was really suffering and people were becoming colder as the pandemic dragged on. That’s what really woke Krampus up: we had lost so many things during that time that we could not stand to lose the Christmas spirit.
This year, I was very happy to have Santa Claus crash the first annual Krampusnacht parade in the city of Yellowknife. I wasn’t in the parade proper, I didn’t meet the proper criteria. But I did wander the length of the parade to make my presence known. There were mixed reactions from complete confusion – comments like “Halloween is over” – to “oh my God, it’s Krampus,” and also true expressions of horror, because my appearance is quite elaborate and people are not prepared for it.
It did create a buzz up and down, though, and I think people are starting to become more aware of what Krampus is and what Krampus means.
Will you be visiting children before Christmas?
Yes, I have some appointments. Parents have been in contact with me requesting that I come visit their children. Some of them are from last year, so we’ve got some frequent flyers. Some kids that just didn’t get the message last year.
I only work until Christmas Eve, and then my job is over and I hand it over to Old St Nick.
What does a typical visit from Krampus look like?
A visit will include very loud banging on your door. Whoever answers is usually in shock. Krampus will then call for the children by name, and very, very few of them actually approach. I have gifts for the kids, which are wrapped nicely and appear like generous, shiny Christmas Day gifts, but when they open it, they’re extremely disappointed, because what they receive is not what they expect. It’s usually coal, and may include other items like a black Christmas bell or a box that’s charred black with their initial carved in the top.
The messaging is, you’re being really hard on your parents when you behave this way. You should be helping your parents a little more this year, and it’s all a subtle nudge from the underworld to get back on track and not be so difficult for their parents, who work really hard to provide for their children.
How do children normally react to your visits?
I’ve had anything from tears and running away to true fearlessness and curiosity. I’ve seen the Christmas spirit in children’s eyes when they see Krampus. They have a sense of wonder and curiosity and that is very special. When I see that during a visit it’s quite magical, and even warms the crusty cockles of Krampus’ heart.
In a lot of movies and stories, Krampus is often portrayed as a villain. Is that how you would describe yourself?
Krampus has a bad rep. He is more of a collaborator and with St Nicholas, together, their goal is to encourage the Christmas spirit in humanity at this special time of year. It’s about reminding people not to lose the Christmas spirit and to keep goodness in their hearts.
Where can people learn more about Krampus?
There’s a recent movie called Krampus and, in that movie, the grandmother tells a story to her grandchildren about her own experience with Krampus as a child. I encourage people that want to learn a little more about Krampus to watch that movie over the holiday season. Look for the grandma’s story to her family about what happened to her when the Christmas spirit was lost in her family as a girl, and that’s probably the best modern depiction of what is a pre-Christian pagan tradition.