9 Books About Krampus and Other Holiday Horrors

Tales to keep you in the Krampusnacht spirit all season long

Krampus mask
Photo by Stefan Klauke via Flickr

By now, you’re probably at least passingly familiar with the Christmas Krampus — the demonic figure from Alpine folklore who accompanies Saint Nicholas on December 5, the eve of the saint’s feast day. While St. Nick gives out presents to all the good children, Krampus torments the naughty ones with birch rods and rusty chains. In Austria and Germany (in a normal year), revelers attend krampuslauf or “krampus run” parades with upwards of a thousand krampusse, not to mention all sorts of other folkloric characters like witches and angels and gremlins and scythe-wielding figures of death. Even before coronavirus, these parades were fraught with peril: attendees risked beatings and theft of personal belongings by krampusse who may have had a little too much schnapps to drink.

Krampus has gained in popularity around the world in recent years, with a starring role in a Hollywood movie in 2015 and krampuslauf scenes popping up in cities like Los Angeles and New Orleans. Since celebrating Krampusnacht in large crowds or by traveling is obviously unwise in 2020, consider getting into the Krampus spirit, or just reveling in the grim darkness inherent in the yuletide season, with one of the following books instead. 

Krampus: the Yule Lord by Brom

On Christmas Eve in Boone County, West Virginia, down-on-his-luck songwriter Jesse witnesses a group of devilish figures chasing Santa Claus to his sleigh. The whole crew then gets jerked into the sky by his startled reindeer, his sack dropping to the ground to the sounds of screams. When Jesse picks up the sack, he becomes embroiled in a centuries-old feud, with the ancient Yule Lord Krampus determined to wrest yuletide back from a Saint Nicholas who may have stolen his magic to begin with.

Snowball by Gregory Bastianelli

Once again it’s Christmas Eve, this time on a lonely highway where a snowplow driver is killed by something mysterious hiding in the vents of his plow. The motorists stranded on the unplowed road gather to tell stories and pass the time, eventually realizing that there are connections between them and it might not be an accident that they are all on this highway on this night. Ghosts, sentient snowmen, and even a Krampus from their grisly stories begin to appear through the storm, and a toymaker with an enchanted snow globe in a nearby cabin in the woods seems to have no interest in helping them get home.

A Midnight Clear ed. by Lindy Ryan

In this collection of six dark holiday-themed stories, elves try a murder case in Santa’s Candy Court at the North Pole, a well-off wolf’s holiday season is interrupted when they are bitten by a wild human, and demons visit a saintly woman who will die on Christmas morning to convince her to choose an afterlife of damnation. Though Krampus does not explicitly appear in these tales, we think he would appreciate their vibe.

Christmas Curiosities: Odd, Dark, and Forgotten Christmas by John Grossman

Through this collection of 19th century ephemera, John Grossman introduces us to a Christmas of the past that looks an awful lot like Halloween. From a slender Saint Nicholas in bishop’s robes accompanied by his demon henchman Krampus, to fairies dressed in fur roasting a huge rat for their Christmas dinner, to broomstick-riding witches and bats delivering New Year’s greetings, this book shows that yuletide has long been a season of darkness, weirdness, and danger.

Hark! The Herald Angels Scream ed. by Christopher Golden

This anthology brings together 18 contemporary horror writers to explore the darker side of the holiday season. With tales ranging from subtly terrifying to delightfully pulpy, they offer up a disturbing gentleman hangman and a chimney sweep who discovers what’s in his home, a twisted take on the tale of the three wise men, a gift of a genetically modified puppy that goes terribly awry, and much more.

The Krampus and the Old, Dark Christmas: Roots and Rebirth of the Folkloric Devil by Al Ridenour

Though the longest-running krampuslauf in Austria dates back to 1898, in this book Al Ridenour traces the history and folkloric roots of the Krampus legend back much farther than that — to church morality plays, Alpine pagan witches, and other devilish spirits of northern Europe. Ridenour weaves in his own personal journey following the Krampus as well as an account of how the internet and popular culture have driven a recent resurgence of interest in the Christmas devil.

Ghosts of Christmas Past: A Chilling Collection of Modern and Classic Christmas Ghost Stories ed. by Tim Martin

Featuring chilling tales by contemporary masters of the genre like Neil Gaiman and classic ones like E. Nesbit, this collection takes a look at the world of ghosts and horrors beneath the usual veneer of festive Christmas cheer — from monstrous presents to uninvited guests who haunt and celebrations that end in darkness and screams.

Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon by James Lovegrove

Who wouldn’t love a good Christmas demon-themed Sherlock Holmes pastiche for the holidays? In December of 1890, Holmes and Watson are visited at Baker Street by a young Yorkshire heiress who is set to inherit a fortune if she is of sound mind on her 21st birthday. However, her sanity is threatened by sightings of her mother’s ghost and a Christmas devil figure her mother told her about, a dark inversion of Father Christmas who might be leaving her bundles of birch rods, the allotment of naughty children who do not deserve gifts. Holmes and Watson travel to her family’s estate to investigate and discover there is more to this case than first met the eye.

Krampusnacht: Twelve Nights of Krampus ed. by Kate Wolford

The stories in this collection offer twelve fresh takes on the Krampus legend. Follow Krampus from the Europe of the past to the North Pole to contemporary America as he doles out punishments to evil children and adults with St. Nick’s approval, makes new friends, gets tricked, and much more.

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