Santa Claus ain’t the only one coming to town.
While most of the world is gearing up for Christmas celebrations with the usual fairy lights, tinsel and elves, some Eastern European countries are celebrating a very different beast during the holidays: Santa’s terrifying counterpart Krampus.
In Austria, thousands of people gathered in Hollabrunn over the weekend as hundreds of performers dressed as Krampus—a horned devilish creature, half goat, half demon—took to the streets. Their costumes are as realistic as can be, often made of real sheep or goat skins, spine-chilling wooden masks featuring rotted teeth, with large cowbells dangling from the waist.
In the German folklore, Krampus is an evil monster who abducts naughty children, carries them off with a basket on his back and beats them with a bundle of sticks. He is the son of Hel, the Nordic god of the underworld: pretty much the complete opposite of benevolent, gift-bringing St. Nicholas.
As frightening as they are, Krampus celebrations are becoming increasingly popular beyond Austria and Germany, notably in Czech Republic.
And impersonators take their jobs very seriously: Many intimate onlookers and sometimes hit them with broomsticks as they march through the streets. Last year, a Krampus festival in Austria got out of hand when five people sustained injuries as a result of getting beaten with sticks.
Krampuses are so frightening—especially for people unfamiliar with the event—that German cities had to issues warnings to newly arrived Syrian and Iraqi refugees so they would know what to expect when they encounter the monstrous creatures.