Monsters at Christmas is a tale older than the holiday itself — at least in Austria and other Alpine countries.

There, legend holds that the horned beast Krampus would shadow St. Nicholas before Christmas. The creature's fierce looks alone could scare naughty children into being nice. But the mythical beast — often with matted fur and chains dangling from its arms and legs — was once said to punish or even kidnap wayward children.

Slowly, quietly, Christmas after Christmas, Krampus has been making its way to Minnesota. These days, you may even encounter one at a Twin Cities holiday event.

The monster's message hasn't changed much.

"We teach people about the Krampus tradition — the importance to be good all year long, listen to your parents, do what you're told," said Tyrone Schenk, president of Minnesota Krampus. "Be nice to one another because life has consequences."

But its tactics have done a 180.

You might see a few people who are part of the local Krampus group dressed up in multi-horned nightmare-inducing costumes at breweries or holiday festivals around the Twin Cities. But instead of giving kids a fright, they are more likely to share a beer with festival-goers or pose for photos with brave, big-eyed children sometimes alongside a stylish St. Nick.

For Schenk, Krampus is nothing new. Growing up in Cottage Grove, he and his family had a tradition of celebrating the creature during the winter. The fascination stayed with him throughout the years, and in 2014, he founded the Minnesota Krampus group that now has more than 50 members.

His parents are both members, with his dad oftentimes dressing up as St. Nicholas.

"I grew up doing German and Austrian folk dancing, and so coming to Oktoberfest and coming to celebrate this part of my heritage has always been very important to my family," Schenk said. "For my dad, he was supporting his son who was doing something to support our culture."

Nikki Fossen Andreska didn't grow up with Krampus, but her husband, Erik Andreska, introduced her to the stories. Now, the tale of Krampus is a household tradition.

Earlier in the season, the St. Paul woman brought her daughters to an ice cream shop where Krampus made an appearance.

"Wherever the group is going to be we go and visit. I love the story," she said. "It shows a different side of Christmas. It gets more into the tales that people had before Christianity."

Lore and more

Minnesota Krampus celebrates a folktale that dates back at least 1,200 years, Schenk explained.

Traditionally, a Krampus is larger than a man, usually covered in fur with as many as six intimidating horns. It answered to Perchta, a pagan goddess of the wilderness that hunted in the mountainous regions of Eastern Europe, including Austria, Germany, Italy, Slovakia, Croatia and Hungary.

"They would describe him as when you're walking through the woods and you feel like you're being watched and have the hair go up on the back of your neck, that was Krampus," said Schenk.

When villagers went missing, it was often chalked up to Krampus, he explained.

"Sometimes people would go a few villages over and not be seen for weeks or months on end. People would say, 'What happened to him? Oh, Krampus must have gotten him.' "

Over the centuries, Krampus' fame has waxed and waned.

During the Christianization of Austria around 700 A.D., Krampus was so popular that the Catholic Church allowed the tradition as long as people converted to Christianity. From then on, Krampus was often paired with St. Nicholas, according to Schenk. In the middle of the 18th century, the church associated Krampus with the devil. By the mid-20th century, however, Krampus was once again celebrated in Europe.

All for authenticity

Schenk said that Minnesota Krampus, which is the first nonprofit group in America dedicated to the Christmas creature, has members from around the world.

The group prides itself on its authenticity. Members import the real-fur-and-horn suits from Austria. The handmade wooden masks can be heavy, Schenk said, but they provide valuable warmth to the wearer during cold outings.

Each Krampus suit can cost up to $3,000, he said. Perhaps that's why the Krampus crew is increasingly sought after to make appearances and be available for photo shoots.

"For events like Oktoberfest, our Krampus will run around with a stein and cheers people," Schenk said. "We're here to have fun and celebrate traditions."