As I have mentioned, Christmas is a big deal in Austria. The Christmas markets go up in early November, but the real Christmas season gets kicked off with Advent in early December. Part of the Advent tradition in Alpine Austria (and throughout Bavaria as well) is the celebration of Krampusnacht followed by St. Nicholas’ Day. The Krampus is the yin to St. Nicholas’ yang – Krampuses punish naughty children; St. Nicholas rewards good children with presents. Krampuses are basically furry demon hooligans who run through the streets on Krampusnacht hitting children with sticks. Seriously. Most Alpine towns host a Krampus run, so MD and I took the train over to Salzburg to check theirs out. We were not disappointed – it was both genuinely terrifying and extremely entertaining.
I was expecting the Krampus run to be more like a 5K where the participants happened to be dressed up as Christmas demons. Well, it’s less of a run and more of an escorted walk. No one is PRing at this event. The route is not blocked off at all – we actually had some difficulty finding anyone to tell us where this would take place. Luckily, we found the right person with the right information just minutes before the festivities kicked off. We heard the group coming long before we saw them – each Krampus is wearing a set of very large bells. The group of Krampuses followed a couple of police people who moved the crowds out of the direct path of the demons as they moved along. As you can imagine, this caused some chaos as people were reshuffled out of the way. I had anticipated this, so I was at the front of the new line that formed. Aside: It should also be mentioned that we were standing right in front of the house where Mozart was born (and an H&M) as all of this went down. I’m not sure how long the full circuit was for the Krampuses, but that was the landmark we were told, so we took it literally and waited right in front of the Mozart house for the fun to begin. /aside
Each Krampus took great pleasure in messing with people in the crowd – they stole one girl’s hat; they physically picked up another girl and dragged her off. One guy was silly enough to run from them — they chased him. I didn’t see them mess with any kids though – they seemed to focus on teens and older. I was standing right in front as they came by, but I was holding a giant camera. Most of them stopped and posed for me, and a couple got some hits in with their sticks on my legs. But it was clear they were trying not to mess with my camera, which I appreciated. But I say again: they really hit you with their sticks.
I have to be honest: they were terrifying. You know it’s a guy or a girl in a suit with a mask. But when one of them is staring you down and about to hit you with a stick, I dare you not to flinch. If kids are freaked out by sitting on Santa’s lap, I can’t imagine this is a pleasant experience at all.
After about 10 minutes, St. Nicholas came by. I think he had a handler who was passing out candy for kids. Then a few more Krampuses came through after St Nicholas. It was easily the weirdest thing I’ve seen in Austria and definitely in the top-10 weirdest things I’ve ever seen.
Title quote: Buddy the Elf in Elf