Christmas with Krampus, or It's behind you!
Forget about sweet little elves and good-natured Santa, and welcome to a somewhat different Christmas tradition...and certainly not for the faint of heart!
In Austria and other German-speaking countries, the night of December 5 is Krampusnacht, or Krampus night.
In case you have never heard about this charming creature, let me introduce you:
Krampus is a horned figure who is literally supposed to beat naughty children into being nice. Lovely, eh?
This delightful fellow’s name originates from the medieval German word Krampen, which means claw.
If being chased through wintry streets by men and women dressed as hairy demons is your thing, then head to Alpine towns such as Salzburg in Austria.
Here you can experience a so-called “Krampuslauf”, or “Krampus Run”.
In this alcohol-fuelled event, flocks of hairy, savage, horned demons roam the streets at nightfall, carrying birch branches with which they lash out at the passers-by; and bells which they ring loudly, all while fiercely rattling chains.
You watch out.
If you have not been good, Krampus will get you.
The pre-Christian tradition of Krampuslauf has its roots in ancient pagan rituals. The noise of the bells chases away the evil spirits of winter. The birch rods are said to have connections with old witching traditions, such as rites of binding.
In its traditional, untamed, unleashed, not-toned-down-for-tourists-form, a Krampuslauf is a truly memorable and terrifying experience.
It is noisy and frightening.
It is primeval and wild.
It is fire and ice.
It is the sinister stuff of nightmares, and yet (or maybe therefore?) immensely compelling.
And then it is all over. The men and women, having for a short while been transformed into messengers from other times and realms, take off their masks and vanish into the cold winter night.
The spectators disperse.
The fires die out slowly.
An eerie silence descends.
And, for another year, ancient demons are laid to rest.