Why would anyone spread Christmas joy when they can spread Christmas terror instead?
Austrians definitely do not play around. Christmas celebrations here don’t just involve boring old jolly Santa Claus. One of the most exciting things Christmas brings is Krampus, an animalistic demon of debatable origins, that prowls through Central Europe around the end of the year. The Krampusnacht Festival celebrates this evil creature, who has “flaming coals for eyes, matted fur and twisting stag horns who slaps people with birch twigs and kidnaps children in a large sack or casket so he can later drown or eat them”.
Many people believe that Krampus originates from pagan nature spirits from pre-Christian times, that the Catholic Church demonised. Others say he has always been evil. Playing the role of Santa’s assistant, Krampus threatens to beat naughty kids with sticks or stow them away in his sack, while Santa rewards the good kids. Austrians have dedicated an entire day to celebrating this diabolical demon, with massive parades that turn this day into a full-on festival. December 5 is Krampusnacht, and it will see crowds of young men dressed in scary costumes.
The largest celebration in all of Austria is held in Klagenfurt. The feast of St. Nicholas (popularly known as Santa Claus) is a huge event here, and it also sees hordes of screaming Krampuses. There is also a huge Christmas market. But the most important part of Krampusnacht is the Krampuslauf, or the Krampus run. While a number of people participating in this crazy race just want to have some drunk fun, others actually make use of mind altering substances to pay homage to pagan tradition. All said and done, it always ends up culminating into an incredible spectacle.