It is probably the world's most frightening Christmas tradition: Krampus is a beast-like creature who punishes children during the Yule season. Essentially St Nicholas's evil brother, the beast captures naughty children during the night and carries them in his sack to his lair where he drowns them, eats them or transports them to hell. It's quite a big step up from "Making a list and checking it twice".

A reveller dressed as Krampus parades through the village centre during an annual Krampus run in Fieberbrunn, Austria Johannes Simon/Getty Images

Krampus is celebrated in Germany and Austria and across much of Central Europe, including Hungary, Slovenia and the Czech Republic. During festivities, men dressed as Krampus roam the streets, frightening children. Krampus is a demon-like creature represented by a fearsome, hand-carved wooden mask with animal horns, a suit made from sheep or goat skin and large cow bells attached to the waist that the wearer rings by running or shaking his hips up and down.

On the evening of 5 December, Krampus traditionally accompanies St Nicholas and angels, visiting households to reward children who have been good while reprimanding those who have not. (A Santa-like figure, St Nicholas is distinct in German tradition from Father Christmas. Tradition dictates that St Nicholas visits overnight between 5 and 6 December to place sweets and small gifts in shoes children leave outside their doors.)

Krampus is also sometimes accompanied by his beastly friend Perchten, a female spirit that roams the countryside in the middle of winter. She enters homes between Christmas and Epiphany and rewards good children with a silver coin. However, with bad children, Perchten would slit open their stomachs, remove their stomach and guts and stuff them with straw and pebbles.

Krampus parades are held throughout November and December, particularly in Tyrolean villages. Getty Images photographer Johannes Simon captured an annual Krampus run in Fieberbrunn, Austria

In recent years, many have suggested Krampus and Perchten are too terrifying for children and Perchten was banned from a Bavarian Christmas market in 2008.