As December 6th approaches, many American children happily await jolly Old St. Nick, leaving their shoes or stockings out in anticipation of the candy and gifts they will receive. It is a sort of pre-Christmas, a day filled with laughter and joy. In Austria, however, things are a little different.
In Austria, St. Nicholas does not come alone. Instead, he brings his shadowy companion, the Krampus, with him. What is Krampus, you may ask? A krampus is a horned, furry alpine monster, meant to punish or even take away children who have misbehaved (some carry a basket on their backs for this very purpose). He wears giant cow bells and carries a birch whip. When Austrian children are little, St. Nick and Krampus come to their house, reading the child’s good deeds and bad deeds from St. Nick’s all-knowing book. If a child, say, has hit his little brother, St. Nick will read this out loud, and the Krampus will flick his whip at the child threateningly. A little scarier than a lump of coal!
On December 5th, St. Nicholas Day Eve, there are hundreds of “Krampus parades” throughout the country. Multitudes of teenage boys, complete with their hideous horned masks, matted fur, cow bells and whips, roam the streets of cities, jumping, chasing and even hitting the strangely excited, sometimes terrified onlookers. If you run away, they see it as an exciting challenge, racing after you with their bells jingling menacingly until they have successfully whipped one of your legs. Bruises are not uncommon. Neither is “girl-napping” – I once had a particularly short friend get picked up by a Krampus and thrown over its shoulder, only to be dropped off somewhere else in the (luckily small) city.
While it does sound terrifying, all in all it is meant in good fun. Police patrol the bigger cities, making sure things don’t get out of hand during the Krampus parades. If you go into the villages nestled far up in the mountains, however, you may be on your own…
Side note: Krampus is slowly becoming more and more known in American culture. Check it out: