Krampus, the evil contemporary of Santa, is a horrific half-goat, half-demon creature who drowns and devours anyone who has not been nice throughout the year. Welcome to the Krampusnacht festival!
The Krampusnacht festival, which takes place in November, is an ode to the mythical and bestial devil: Krampus. Krampusnacht stands for Krampus Night. He purportedly shows up in towns the night before December 6th, which also happens to be St. Nicholas Day, when German children check their socks and bags to see if they’ve gotten any presents from the cheerful Santa Claus. In Austria, Bavaria, South Tyrol, Slovenia, Croatia and parts of Hungary, the Feast of St. Nicholas is usually celebrated with Christmas pageants and parades. These parades include crowds of young men dressed as Krampus.
Krampus was created as a counterpart to the kindly St. Nicholas, who rewarded children with sweets for their good behaviour over the year. Krampus, in contrast, would swat “wicked” children and take them away to his lair. The hairy beast threatens to hit children with birch twigs or worse, as legend has it, stores them away in sacks or drowns them. What’s totally bizarre is how there are two seemingly bipolar figures for the same festival. One, a jolly fellow who spreads happiness and cheer and the other a demon who does nothing but terrorises and terrifies!
His origin has always been a subject of debate because there has never been a single link that has been traced down to his origin. Krampus, whose name is derived from the German word ‘Krampen’ which means claw, is said to be the son of Hel in Norse mythology. Seems quite fitting doesn’t it? The presence and the myth of Krampus was suppressed for a long time by the church communities. But now, people have been interested in celebrating the festival by showcasing both the good as well as the bad side of a single festival.
Austria is where Krampus has been celebrated over the years and authorities have had mixed feelings about conducting the festivities regarding the abomination. Not everyone shares the same enthusiasm about welcoming something so evil with open arms. The issue has become so notorious that psychologists and schools have had numerous debates about banning the creature altogether because of the insanely scary and horrific nature of the creature. The Austrians revere the creature so much so that there’s a dedicated Krampus museum in the town of Suetschach, which showcases the origins, the details and the costumes of the beast!
December 5th is the day when he descends on the towns in Germany and Bavaria to terrorise everyone around. The men dress up as the Krampus but the women are not too far behind. The women dress up as the Frau Perchta, an ancient Nordic figure who represents the goddess of fertility and war, two very contrasting roles. The costumes made for the people who wish to partake in these festivities are extremely elaborate and carefully made. Sticking to the true roots, the outer layer of the costume is made from goat or sheep skin and huge bells are attached at the waist, which the men play when they barge onto the streets. The masks are carefully made from single pieces of wood to give them a single-cut terrifying appearance.
Over the years, a more modern take has been given to the festival called the “Krampuslauf“, which roughly translates into the Krampus Run! Over 1000 men, dressed as the devil himself, take to the streets during the festival. Although the festival usually starts off on a more traditional note, once the day progresses, the festival morphs into more of a party! The men, who dress up as Krampus, usually tend to be teenagers or men in their early twenties. And as everyone knows, teens and men aged in their early twenties don’t mind the occasional drink. In this case – many drinks.
Once the Krampi get inebriated enough, they proceed to carry out mischievous antics the devil is known for! While the major part of the Krampi tend to have fun, some prefer delving into the Pagan spirituality angle of the festival as well. They channel the pre-Christian traditions of spiritual possession using mind-altering substances. So, in a way, everyone who is dressed as Krampus loses their senses on that day in some way or the other!
Once the day of celebrations ends, the mad after-party takes over. What can you expect at the after party? Lots of black and death metal, pagan references, people embracing their inner demons, lots of demon iconography and just men strutting around confidently in their devil garb, trying to spook out people!
Although, from the information given above, it is easy to mistake the Krampuslauf as a booze fest, but for a lot of other people, it means a way of bringing out their inner creativity as well. People, who want to dress up as the Krampus, put extensive effort and time into the designing and making of their elaborate costumes to stand out from the 1000 other monsters on the street!
The Krampusnacht is a unique coming together of people with varying beliefs to embrace and celebrate the other side of the jolly and merry Christmas festival. The Krampus, although utterly terrifying, is a testament to the fact that no matter how much we advance in life, we will always try to bring back the rituals from the olden days some way or the other!