Krampushnacht in Austria

Stemming from centuries-old folklore from the Alpine-nations, Krampusnacht is a night in early December dedicated to the maleficent half-demon and half-goat creature, Krampus

In Austria and across the German-speaking Alpine region, the demonic character is a crucial part of the holiday season. According to legend, on the evening of December 5, Krampus would creep out from his lair to punish disobedient children by whipping them with his switch and dragging them to the underworld. In more recent times, entertainment and inebriation are the two main goals.

Been naughty this year? Clean up quick or risk the wrath of this ancient, tongue lashing, stick-wielding demon. If you’re keen to visit Salzburg to meet the creature yourself, here are 6 things to know about Krampusnacht.

Krampushnacht Salzburg

Who is Krampus?

In short, Krampus is the traditional bad cop to Santa Claus’ good cop. 

While the latter jolly and generous gentleman rewards well-behaved youngsters with gifts, the former dark counterpart is a centuries-old mythical demon 

Appearing as devilish figure bearing horns, dark hair, fangs, a long tongue and a goat-like beard, much like typical portrayals of Satan, the anti-St. Nick donned in chain and bells is nothing short of a horror story come to life. 

Lashing about a long tongue and bundle of birch sticks to swat naughty children, he comes to Salzburg each December to beat and kidnap mischievous children.

Originally, Krampus was a purely pagan creation, said to be the son of Hel from Norse mythology. In the alp-nations, it was believed that Krampus and his perchten (army of ill-tempered elves) roamed the area causing mischief and mayhem to whomever they encountered. While the elves took particular delight in whipping lazy folks, unruly youngsters, and drunks, Krampus abducted miscreants altogether. 

As the centuries passed, Christianity supplanted paganism and Krampus was given a new role in society: St. Nick’s evil sidekick — similar to figures like Zwarte Piet in the Netherlands, Père Fouettard in parts of France and Knecht Ruprecht or Belsnickel in Germany.

Krampus Austria

What is Krampusnacht?

While the event and all associations with the beast was suppressed first by the Catholic Church and then by fascists, interest in Krampusnacht, and in Krampus, has been enjoying a resurgence in recent times. 

On Krampusnacht, the fabled Krampus unleashes his reign of terror: beatings with sticks, kidnappings and even drowning are typical consequences of ending up on the naughty list. 

While the purpose was to instil fear and good behaviour in little-ones, today the event has become more of an excuse to honour the alpine Halloween-meets-Christmas tradition with good old fashioned merrymaking: great food, ever flowing drinks, elaborate costumes and fanfare in abundance.

What is Krampusnacht

How Krampusnacht is celebrated

A winter wonderland with a wicked twist, the key events include the Krampus parade and Krampus run where, taking on the form of Krampus, men in their thousands pour into the city’s street intoxicated to race one another.

If you’re going to dress up, and you really should, there is no half-in half-out with the getup. For men, masks have to be wooden and terrifying. Horns, fangs and bloodshot eyes are typical, and clothes traditionally have to be made from goat or sheep skin to resemble the legendary descriptions of how Krampus really dressed.

Ladies can also join in by becoming Frau Perchta”. Equalling the elaborate look of the Krampuses, the outfits for Frau Perchta should include ugly masks, dishevelled ivory hair, and long gothic dresses.

Who is Krampus

Where Krampusnacht is celebrated

On 6th December, Austria, Germany, and many other alpine countries celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas. The evening preceding the revelry is Krampusnacht. 

Unmissable celebrations are held throughout Salzburg in the days leading up to the event but the one not to miss is the Krampus Run taking place on the 5th December.


Attending the Krampus Parade & Run

Like Krampus himself, his namesake parade is far from sweet and tidy. 

Always taking place in the cloak of darkness, marchers are scarily costumed, some performing acrobatics such as flips and cartwheels along the route. 

Set up as a free event, it gets busy quickly. Over 200 parade clubs spend months creating parade costumes, marching formations, and party plans so arrive early to secure a good viewing spot. 

Part of the event is a race, so if you’re not a spectator, be prepared for an impromptu chase and possible whipping.

Where is Krampusnacht celebrated

Treats on offer for naughty adults

Food and drink have always brought people together and when it’s Austrian food, it’s impossible not to connect over the mouthwatering meals on offer throughout the city.

Look out for the bottomless fruity schnapps or thick mulled wine served at nearby stalls that’ll help keep you both merry and warm, while indulging on glutinous cakes and baked goods such as sweet and spicy stollen, sugary dumplings and freshly made doughnuts is a must.

Make the most of the event by taking a weekend trip to the city. Discover how to spend 2 days in Salzburg here.

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