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Krampus: Christmas' most terrifying tradition

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Krampus: Christmas' most terrifying tradition
A particularly horrifying Krampus mask on display at a jesters' parade in Weil am Rhein in March 2009. Photo: DPA
08:13 CET+01:00
Germany famously does Christmas extremely well, with its renowned seasonal markets conjuring images of toasty gingerbread and steaming mugs of Glühwein. But Germany's love for yuletide folklore has a dark side - and it's coming out on Thursday night.

Santa Claus may already be preparing to carry presents to good children everywhere, but in southern Germany another legendary character has different ideas.

The legendary Krampus, usually described as a beast-like, demonic figure with long goats' horns and straggly hair, comes to capture naughty children and carries them off in a sack to his mountain lair, according to Alpine tradition.

CLICK HERE to see a gallery of Germany's scariest Christmas character

Stories of the Krampus talk of him coming out to punish bad children around the eve of St. Nicholas' day.

Traditionally young men across south Bavaria, as well as south Tyrol and Austria don big hairy costumes and horned masks during the first week of December to act the part of the fearsome creature in an especially scary pre-Christmas celebration of Germanic folklore.

Dressing up as the Krampus, or his fellow monster the noisy, gnarly-faced Perchten, has been part of southern German tradition for centuries but in recent years the practice has caused a stir, with the troll-like Perchten banned from a Christmas market in Wolfratshausen, Bavaria in 2008 for scaring children into "crying fits," according to Munich's Tageszeitung newspaper.

However, friends of the gruesome beasts said a little scare was no bad thing.

"Children are also scared of Santa Claus," said Captain Ewald Brückl of the mountain preservation organization of Wolfratshausen, a group working to keep old Alpine traditions like the Krampus alive.

Parents shouldn't really blame fairytale characters for kids' tantrums when "they let their children see other horrifying things on television and the internet," Brückl added.

READ MORE: The Local's guide to Germany's Christmas markets

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