Krampus, the Christmas devil

By Maureen O'Hare Sean Gallup / Getty Images
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A Krampus in Neustift im Stubaital, Austria, on November 30, 2013

In what has to be the most terrifying of all Christmas traditions, in the week leading up to the Feast of Saint Nicholas on December 6 the horned and hairy Alpine beast known as Krampus runs riot on the streets of Austria, Bavaria and beyond. In Germanic folklore, Saint Nicholas rewards well-behaved children with gifts, while his devilish counterpart hunts down the naughty and the mischievous, hitting them with birch twigs and, if he's fast enough, capturing them in his sack and carrying them off to their doom.

Click or swipe through for more pictures of Krampus festivities.

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A tourist faces up to a Krampus in Munich, December 5, 2010

The Krampus tradition dates back to pre-Christian times, but recent decades have seen a popular resurgence in interest.

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Austria, December 5, 2008

The traditional night for Krampus to appear is December 5, or Krampusnacht. They attack the foolhardy with their ruten, or birch switches, so it's wise to steer clear of their path.

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The Koatlacker devil's association parade in Prad, Italy, on December 4, 2011

While Nicholas dispenses gifts, Krampus dispenses coal and ruten.

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A member of the Haiminger Krampusgruppe arrives at the annual Krampus night in Tyrol on December 1, 2013

The word Krampus is a derivation of the old German word for claw, but the beast goes by many names. In Austria, he is known as Klaubauf, Bartl, Niglobartl and Wubartl. In Germany they call him Pelzebock, Pelznickel and Gumphinckel. In Hungary, he is Krampusz and in Switzerland, Schmutzli.

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St. Martin near Lofer in Salzburg province, Austria - December 5, 2009

Although his depiction varies, Krampus is usually covered in thick dark hair, and has a long pointed tongue and the hooves and horns of a goat. He carries chains (which he thrashes for effect) and often bells, which ring as he walks. He also carries his birch twigs and occasionally he has a sack or washtub strapped to his back, for carting off naughty children.

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Celebrations in Salzburg, Austria

With the advent of the internet, Krampus has become a global sensation. You can now buy Krampus t-shirts, homewares and even beer.

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Preparations

Dressmaker Barbara Trenkwalder checks animal coats in the tannery Trenkwalder in the western Austrian village of Scheffau, on November 9, 2012. Each handmade traditional costume, consisting of up to 14 separate sheep or goat skins, takes three dress makers one day to produce.

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Preparations

Woodcarver Markus Spiegel places goat horns on a mask at a workshop in Pfaffenhofen, Austria, on November 20, 2012. Some 15 hours are needed for a woodcarver to sculpt each demon mask which is made from stone pine wood.

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The men behind the masks

Over 200 Krampuses participated in Krampus night on November 30, 2013 in Neustift im Stubaital, Austria. A Krampuslauf is a run of celebrants dressed as the beast.