Nothing says Christmas like mulled wine with raisins and tangerines, laughing children, a 20-foot tall fir tree, a parade of woolly-haired demons, and a band thrashing to heavy metal. But that’s how the Czechs in Kaplice carry on the season, along with many other villages across the Alpine and sub-Alpine lands. In the Czech Republic, by far the most biggest and most famous is the Krampus Kaplice festival in South Bohemia.

The tradition is not without historical precedent. As Christianity spread throughout the region, Santa Claus--short for Saint Nicholas for my European friends who are confused about the jolly giant of Anglo lore--needed some help with his piling list of duties. Not only did he have to take care of his reindeer, manage his growing army of elven woodworkers, keep a list of naughty and good children, somehow balance a loving marriage with Mrs. Clause, and hand out presents to all the various good kids of the world, he also had to start giving coal to the bad kids. Mama mia! he might have said. Though he was Greek and I’m not overly sure what those olive pickers are prone to saying when exasperated.

Krampus

Santa starts the parade

And then one foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say, “What if we enslaved us a pagan deity of the Alps? I hear those Austrians and Swiss are hardworking folk, their old gods ought to be as well.” So Santa, with a team of some forty elves, sought the woolen haired, goat horned old god named Krampus. Luckily for Santa, pagan gods are prone to heavy drinking and dancing. So he got together a few of Mrs. Claus’s single ladies and set them to work.

Before the night was through, Krampus was in chains with a giant bell hanging off his back.

Krampus

the most traditional versions have bells and baskets on their back

But it wasn’t such a bad thing. He got to relax and drink mulled wine for most of the year at his nice cushy pad at the North Pole. And in December, he gets to revisit his old haunts and torment young children and pretty ladies, slapping them with bundles of birch and generally terrifying them with any number of untold nightmares before Christmas. The tradition continues The tradition started in the 1600s, when it was mostly relegated to local village parades. It would start off with Santa Claus, followed by someone dressed up in sheep's wool, horns, and chains, symbolizing something like Christianity's victory over paganism, casting Santa Claus into an almost Solomon-like position, with an army of demons to do his bidding.