Krampus Parades in Austria
Krampus, the terrifying demon that accompanies Saint Nicholas, is a tradition of the Austro-Bavarian-Alpine region with historic roots that date back to pre-Christianity. As Saint Nicholas’ companion, Krampus punishes naughty children by hitting them with bundles of sticks (ruten), kidnapping them by carting children off in his sack, or in more severe cases drowning children or eating them. Short story: Krampus is not nice.
Regardless of his evil ways, Krampus is a prominent part of the Austrian Christmas tradition and is featured everywhere: in grocery markets, in decorations, and in schools. At the Volksschule I teach at, the children have been busy preparing for Krampusnacht with lessons about Krampus and making art projects that feature him. Many of the children told me that they were frightened of Krampus but still enjoyed going to the traditional Krampus Parade.
In Austria, Bavarian Germany, Alpine Italy, and parts of Slovenia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary there are Krampus parades (German: Krampuslauf or Perchtenlauf). During these Krampus parades, Perchtengruppe (clubs dedicated to upholding the Krampus tradition) parade through Alpine towns terrifying onlookers. So far, I have attended two Perchtenlauf with one in Villach and the other in Klagenfurt both of which were a mixture of fun and terrifying.
During the parade, Krampus and other Perchten storm through the street and do their best to scare the crowds. Krampus antics vary widely but primarily consist of making lots of noise through bells, chains, whips, and shields and messing with the crowd whether it be by rattling barrier fences, grabbing at people, or hitting the crowd with sticks and whips. As I mentioned, there is a lot of variance in how far Krampus will take his evil acts and I have even seen videos where Krampus blows fire (what?!?) and has been excessively physical with the audience.
Although Krampus is a menacing demon, some Krampus will do their best not to frighten children too much. During the Villach Perchtenlauf, I was standing next to a family with small children who were very excited to interact with Krampus. One little girl enjoyed having her picture taken with Krampus, but cried when she was asked to give Krampus a kiss. In most Perchtenlauf, Saint Nicholas will also make an appearance in the parade for the children to enjoy.
Krampusnacht in Austria is the day before Saint Nicholas Day (December 6th) so most Krampus festivities take place in late November to mid-December. Luckily, I was able to attend the Perchtenlauf in Klagenfurt which is the largest assembly of Krampus in Austria with more than 1000 in the parade, I highly suggest you check it out.
TIPS FOR YOUR FIRST KRAMPUS PARADE:
- Dress appropriately: during the parade, Krampus will typically swat at the crowd’s legs and feet with his bundle of sticks. Be sure to wear thick pants and boots if possible. I was whipped on my knees and truthfully, it hurt, but I know it would have been worst if I was not wearing heavy pants.
- Bring change: Perchtengruppe will typically sell Schnapps or ask for donations to help fund the group’s preparations for the parade. Come on, who doesn’t want Schnapps from Krampus?
- Want a lot of attention from Krampus?
- Taunt Krampus – Krampus punishes the naughty and taunting him only provokes him. An angry Krampus is part of the fun of the parade.
- Wear bright colors – it can be difficult to see through the Krampus costume and bright colors make some people easier targets.
- Stand in the front – if you want the best view of the action, arrive at the parade early to secure a spot right on the barrier fence. I arrived at the parade in Villach about half an hour before it began and already most of the spots were filled.
- Warning – Krampus will typically target women, children, and groups of teenagers. Krampus like to scare people and these groups tend to fulfill their wish, you have been warned.
- Be safe! While Krampus Parades are a fun way to experience Austrian culture, be sure to have your wits about you during the parade. During one Krampus parade, a group was particularly out of hand and grabbed the parade barrier fence and threw it into the street while there were small children standing on it – not cool! I also had a Krampus grab me by the head and push me down onto the street which really did hurt. Part of the fun of Krampus is being scared, but that does not mean you need to get hurt too. You can always communicate your concerns to parade security or leave if it gets to be too much.
I hope you enjoy your first meeting with Krampus. Let me know in the comments if you see anything super scary!
Gruß vom Krampus!
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