14 November 2010

Who is Krampus?

Krampus - the Publically-Sanctioned Child-Scarer
The handsome gentleman seen to the right is named Krampus, the beloved descendant of a terrifying, pre-Christian Alpine tradition.  I was introduced to him last night when an Austrian friend from Waidhofen generously offered to take me to a Perchtenlauf in the nearby town of Ybbsitz.  Having no idea what a Perchtenlauf might be, and feeling too embarrassed to ask, I gladly accepted the invitation. 

As it turns out, a Perchtenlauf is a traditional parade held annually in many Austrian towns during the Christmas season.  (NOTE: Although it is questionable whether the Christmas season has already properly started, I have noticed that without Thanksgiving as a semi-official starting line, Austrians have a harder time agreeing upon exactly when it is permissible to start celebrating and shopping like maniacs.)  Perchtenlauf is equivalent, perhaps, to America's Macy's Day Parade, but without Matt Lauer or the famously large (and sometimes deadly) balloons.  Instead, a traditional Perchtenlauf features packs of young men dressed as the character Krampus. 

These young men, who are active members of large Krampus clubs, dress up with horns and masks made of wood and sheep skin and wield torches, flares, and clubs as they march through the streets terryfing women and children.  Thankfully, no one is ever actually burned, bitten, or stabbed, and everyone has a good time.  Ample quantities of spiced cider increase the excitement and, along with all the flames, keep the crowd warm. (Click here for a cool Krampus-themed holiday drink recipe)

The Perchtenlauf in Ybbsitz came early in the season, as the busiest day of the year for Krampus is St. Nikolaus Day, the Sixth of December.  On the eve of this holiday, St. Nikolaus/Nicholas - essentially Santa Claus, but dressed more like the Pope (left) - brings presents to well-behaved children, but dispatches the gruesome Krampus to naughty children, whom are then dragged into the pits of hell.  When I asked my Austrian companions to clarify the relationship between Krampus and St. Nikolaus, they explained that they are neither friends nor enemies, but rather co-workers, with St. Nikolaus holding the dominant, upper-management position.

Outside of Perchtenlauf and St. Nikolaus Day, the Krampus tradition is carried out on weekend nights by young men who use the opportunity to harrass women with large cowbells, rusty chains, and home-made whips.  The practice is especially popular at nightclubs and in the province of Styria.  Although this tradition would certainly lead to legal action in the United States, it's all in good fun and even the children really seem to love it.

For some great news footage of one of last year's larger Perchtenlaufs, click here.

No comments:

Post a Comment