When I first moved to Austria, I was super excited since it was during Christmastime. I heard so many amazing things about celebrating Christmas in Austria (Christmas Traditions in Austria), about the food, the drinks and other fun activities (things to do during the winter season). If you are not familiar with Austria, it has one of the best ski resorts in all of Europe (and also in the world). It’s also so fun and lovely visiting the Christmas Markets in Austria. They really put a lot of effort on the Christmas markets decorations, traditional food, ice skating rinks and more. I especially enjoyed learning about the Christmas traditions in Austria, until I found out about one that is a little bizarre. I’m referring to none other than Krampus, the evil Santa or also known as the Christmas devil. I would describe Krampus Festival in Austria (and the whole legend of Krampus) as very unique but terrifying Christmas tradition in Austria. Curious for more? Then read on to learn about the Legend of Krampus, a Christmas horror story.
Table of Contents (skip directly to the info you're looking for)
- 1 A Christmas Horror Story!
- 1.1 Krampus Austria: Who is Krampus? “The Legend of Krampus”
- 1.2 History of Krampus – Origin of Krampus
- 1.3 When does Krampus come out of hiding? – Krampusnacht Not Your Traditional Christmas Santa
- 1.4 Krampuslauf (Krampus runs)
- 1.5 Krampus Parade
- 1.6 Krampus the movie – A Christmas Horror movie!
- 1.7 Krampus lives on…
A Christmas Horror Story!
Krampus Austria: Who is Krampus? “The Legend of Krampus”
Krampus is the Austrian Christmas monster (evil santa twist) who’s a mythological holiday beast (half goat / half demon), who comes to visit and punish children who’ve misbehaved throughout the year. He also have chains, to symbolize the binding of the devil by the Christian Church, which he thrashes about for dramatic effect and to scare people. You could also hear Krampus’ bell ornaments as he walks around and gets closer and closer…. He is rumoured to carry bells of different sizes (I figured Krampus wears bell ornaments since he is half goat, but who knows, just my opinion). So when you hear the bells, don’t wait, just run!
History of Krampus – Origin of Krampus
Krampus is the evil twist of St. Nicholas. You have the saint (good angel) and the devil (the bad angel). Evil Krampus vs St. Nick sums it all up in a nutshell.
In reality, its a little more involved. Krampus’ origins have nothing to do with the Christmas holidays. Instead, they date back to pre-Germanic paganism in the region. The Krampus name comes from the German word krampen, which means “claw.” It is believed that he is the son of the Norse god of the underworld, Hel. There was a point in time (around the 12th century) that the Catholic Church tried to vanquish the celebrations and tradition of Krampus. I’m sure that you can guess why! Basically, it was because of the similarity between Krampus and the devil. The Austria’s conservative social party tried again to banish it too, but Krampus kept emerging as a much powerful, loved, although still feared Christmas Holiday tradition in Austria.Austrian Christmas Traditions: Who is Krampus? The Legend of Krampus, a Christmas Horror Story!Click To Tweet
When does Krampus come out of hiding? – Krampusnacht Not Your Traditional Christmas Santa
Krampus comes on December 5th to punish misbehaving kids, which is the day before St. Nicholas comes (December 6th) to reward good kids by leaving candies in their shoes, and for bad kids, leaving birch twigs (or in modern times, carbon) in their shoes. Sometimes on December 6th, Krampus comes or tags along with St. Nicholas, but Krampus (as noted above), only goes after bad or naughty children. The legend of Krampus states that during the Christmas Holiday season, children who have misbehaved are beaten with birch branches or can even disappear, stuffed into Krampus’ sack, and hauled off to his lair to be tortured or eaten afterwards.
In Europe, they do not believe in Santa Claus; this is an American tradition. Instead of Santa Claus, they have St. Nicholas, but this St Nicholas does not look like our American Santa. He looks more like a religious figure, similarly looking to a Bishop.
For those who wonder about other countries where these Christmas traditions, in addition to Austria, are celebrated, the list includes Germany (especially in Bavaria), Slovenia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia and Northern Italy including South Tyrol.
If you misbehaved this year, you better sleep with one eye open because you never know who he is going after, since in the Krampuslauf (Krampus runs) he goes after everyone who misbehaves, regardless of age! See more below.
Krampuslauf (Krampus runs)
Hundreds of Krampus run behind misbehaving people, especially women and kids because they are the most scared of Krampus. You bet he enjoys that! Actually, Krampuslauf is more like a festival to keep the tradition alive in Austria and also in different parts of Europe (as mentioned above.)
In Austria, they also have different annual Krampus Parades, also know as Perchtenlauf, that keep this centuries-old tradition alive! During the parade, you can appreciate different types of Krampus (in other words the Krampus masks and costumes). As you probably guessed, all of these masks are handmade and unique. In the parade, there is music, dancing, Christmas decorations and lots of culture and traditions. There are also vendors selling food, drinks, local wares, etc.
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend one of the Krampus parades in Austria and it was such a unique experience for me as a New Yorker. It almost felt like Halloween during the Christmas holiday season, since (for me) that is what the whole Krampus legend reminds me of, a scary Halloween tale.
Another fact which I found interesting is that the parade I attended, which is one of the largest ones in Upper Austria, took place at a church. I guess that when I think of going to church, I think of something more spiritual, a singing choir, biblical stories, not loud dark music with mythological beasts (christmas devils or evil santas) running around with chains and bells. It was definitely super captivating to watch but definitely not my usual Christmas in NYC or in Puerto Rico.I honestly did not know about Krampus until I moved to Austria. I also asked other friends in the United States and many did not have any idea what I was talking about, although I later found out that there are some festivals that have occurred in the US, such as the Krampusnacht in Orlando, Florida.
Regardless, I decided to write this article to explain a little bit about the Christmas Tradition of Austria’s Krampus and about my own experience attending the Krampus parade. Most importantly, it is very interesting to experience how other cultures celebrate Christmas. Of course, Austrians do have the traditional Christmas Eve dinner with family (December 24th) where they exchange and open gifts. It’s still most definitely a great holiday celebration with lots of food and drinks, surrounded by loved ones.
Krampus the movie – A Christmas Horror movie!
Krampus became popular over the years and there are comic books and several movies about Krampus (I believe close to 10 to choose from). You can search for them online if you are really interested.
I even found Krampus costumes for male and female on Amazon. Maybe this can be your 2019 Halloween costume?
Krampus lives on…
The legend of Krampus, the festival, parade and the rest of the celebrations involved in this beloved Christmas Horror Story will probably remain a tradition in Austria for years to come. As long as there are people in the world willing to misbehave and risk incurring Krampus’ wrath, he’ll stay around…probably forever.
Have you ever attended a Krampus Parade or Festival? What was your experience? If you’ve never celebrated this tradition, would you? Why or why not? Let us know by commenting below.
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Traveling to Europe for the winter holidays?
Everything you need to know before you go: Essential Travel Items to pack for Europe
IMPORTANT: Don’t forget to buy travel insurance whenever you travel since it is essential! I am a fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Best to protect yourself from any possible injury, sickness and theft abroad.
- Pick up the Best of Europe Travel Guide by Rick Steves.
- Photos are critical for capturing moments, documenting memories and can make the most precious gifts! And since you’ll probably be snapping tons of them during your getaway, I would suggest getting a good quality mirrorless camera. It is not heavy to carry around, takes amazing pictures and, because it’s wifi enabled, I can send the photos straight to my mobile phone. The one that I personally use is: Sony Alpha 6000 Mirrorless Camera. The portraits lens that comes with the camera is amazing but, since I take so many photos for work, I also bought an additional lens – the 18-105mm.
- Pick up the Best of Europe Travel Guide by Rick Steves.
- I also recommend an action camera like the Go Pro Hero 6. Good for adventure travel, action shots, water sports shots and more.
- Weather can be unpredictable in almost every destination.This is why I always carry with me a small, lightweight umbrella and a raincoat.
- I always keep a big scarf in my bag, since it is helpful when it gets cooler in the evening, and it’s also a great accessory for my outfits, as a cover up especially when you need to go inside a spiritual or religious place. You never know! One of my favorite is an infinity scarf by Waypoint Goods, which has a secret Hidden Zipper pocket. You can hide money, your passport and any other valuables.
- I love to have a few sets of small earrings, because sometimes they tend to get lost.
- I always bring extra hair ties, pins and clips, in case the weather gets crazy, I can always pick up my hair.
- I prefer cross body travel bags. They are convenient, easy to access, transition well from day to night, as well as keeping you better protected from theft. I really like this one from Bagallini or this one from Lo and Sons.
- Waterproof boots – These are good regardless the weather.
- Comfortable walking sandals – For days with good weather.
- Earbuds – Perfect for listening to music during different stages of the trip.
- If you are a girl who loves make-up like myself, I totally recommend the Urban Decay Born to Run palette. It is what I always carry with me during my travels.
- For those of us who love answering emails, working or reading on the go: I cannot travel without my Amazon Fire Tablet HD 8. I have so many books on it from my kindle unlimited and it really keeps me entertained while on the go. Plus, it’s convenient for me to answer some emails and get some work done.