If you are coming to Austria for the first time as an exchange student or English teacher, you are likely to experience culture shock. Austria has some unique customs that may seem shocking to non-Austrians – one of those being Krampus.
Who is Krampus? Krampus is the devil-like companion of Nikolaus (also known as St. Nicolas or Santa Claus in the Western world). He is depicted as a tall, hairy, horned devil with piercing red eyes. Krampus carries a whip and wears a wicker basket on his back where he carries naughty children to Hell. Austrian children grow up hearing this story, a much more harrowing fate than receiving coal in one’s stocking! The night that Krampus arrives to collect the bad children is December 5th. Nikolaus day falls on December 6th, where the good children are rewarded with sweets and snacks, such as oranges and nuts, in their shoes.
The myth of Krampus is not just for children! Young adult men have fun during the holiday season by dressing up in frightening, elaborate Krampus costumes. Traditionally on December 5th “Krampusnacht” is when large cohorts of these “Krampuses” run through the streets of town squares and Christmas markets around Austria merrymaking. What is considered merriment in Austria may seem frightening for a foreigner – it is not unusually for the Krampuses to target young men (and women) by chasing them, roughing them up, or (gently) whipping them in the street! The “battery” is all in good fun, with the Krampuses removing their masks later in the evening to join the local bar goers or Christmas market patrons in a drink – or two, or three.
If you want to see a Krampus during your time in Austria, being in the countryside greatly increases your chances. Visit a Christmas market on a Friday or Saturday night in late November/early December. Often these “Krampuslaufs” are advertised around the town, so look for posters! One sure fire way to see many Krampuses is to visit the famous Krampuslauf in Graz that takes place in late November every year. Here you can watch a parade of hundreds of Krampuses march down the street – truly an amazing – and terrifying spectacle!
Written by Caitlin Fitzgibbon, Marketing and Recruitment Coordinator