Friday, July 18, 2014

Krampus Laufen Dec. 6 - Dec. 8

The Krampus is an old pagan character dating back more than a millennium. To our understanding, the Krampus is based in the Eastern Alps region, mainly in Southern Germany, Northeast Italy and Austria. Around the 17th century he was joined by St. Nicholas and the Christmas Angel. While good children are rewarded for their good behavior by St. Nicholas and angels, naughty kids are punished by the Krampus. Legend has it that the Krampus (and Perchten) will reprimand naughty children and take the especially bad ones back to his lair in the alps.
Image from Cvlt Nation

This tradition still carries on today throughout the Bavarian-Austrian region between November and early December. The largest events tend to be around St. Nicholas Day "Nikolaustag" on December 6 or the night before named Krampus night or "Krampusnacht". We decided to see the Krampus Laufen in Bad Goisern, Austria - because it is known for being one of the largest gatherings and it wasn't too far from Zurich. It also helped that the event landed on a weekend and that we love spending time in Austria.
Alpine region near Bad Goisern in Austria.

By chance, we snagged a last minute room cancellation in a centrally located hostel. Staying there turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. The family that owned the hostel was wonderful, even when we checked in at 12:30 AM after getting stuck in a snowstorm. Over breakfast, the family filled us in on the local Krampus tradition, bringing out his son's costume for us to see. They explained how the whole costume is mostly traditionally hand crafted, with real animal horns on hand carved wooden masks. The costumes are often made with sheep or goat fur full costumes and have cow bells. Some groups take the liberty modernizing their costumes with LED lights and custom bells.
Humble and comfortable room after a stressful late night drive to Austria.
Our breakfast guest.

At the suggestion of the Hostel owner, we spent Saturday afternoon just up the road in Hallstatt, an old salt mining town sitting along a lake. By luck, our visit coincided with their annual weekend Christmas market. We'll have to return in the summer to enjoy the lake and take the salt mine tour.
We made our way up narrow roads and footpaths for the best views.
The main road along the lake.
We couldn't help but explore all the footpaths through the neighborhood.
Deep fried apples, made from start to finish right in front of us.

What we love about Bad Goisern was the low key atmosphere surrounding the event. No advertising posters, no souvenirs for sale - just plenty of warm drinks and food for sale. In fact, I started to worry that this was going to be a small event because the town seemed to be sleepy even a few hours leading up to it. My worries were put to rest when the railings were set up and people started pouring in.
Famous for the "Goiserer Schuh", a good wearable mountain-shoe.
Sleepy little alpine town a few hours before the event.
A crowd started forming slowly.

Bundled up with a warm drink in hand, we staked out our spot. Oh my God, it was cold -- even with Sorel snow-boots on. After an hour of standing in the cold watching the children meet St. Nick and the children's Krampus Laufen, things started to warm up.
Getting into the Austrian spirit with Jägertee.
Finally, the main event.

For hours we watched numerous Krampus groups parade by. Okay, so we didn't just passively watch. Bad Goisern is a small town and the rules are more relaxed about Krampus terrorizing the crowds. The Krampuses sought out "naughty" guys to swat with branches, try to scare the little kids, and terrorize particularly cute blond girls. Q got a few good swats but nothing compared to the cute girls next to us.
Yes - Fire! This would never happen in the States.
This super brave kid didn't even flinch.
Still no tears from this little guy.
A break from the terror with angels handing out peanuts and sweets.
When you were not getting swatted, you'd be getting a long creepy stare.
Several groups played around for the crowds before walking onwards.

The groups of Krampuses came from different towns around the region. It was said there were over 700 Krampusses and demons participating. What we really enjoyed was the variety of costumes. Each group had its style of costumes, yet each individual was still unique.
Each group's costume varied from very traditional...
to more contemporary.

The whole event was actually scary, especially knowing that you might get hit. I have to admit that I haven't been scared like that in a long time.

Back at our hostel the festivities continued. It turned out that the majority of the hostel guests were from one of the Krampus groups. The hostel owner set up a fire pit and a small shed outside serving drinks to the teenagers. Before turning in for the night, we got a warm drink and hung out with some of the teenage guys. They were great fun and excited to share their Austrian tradition with us. One guy even dressed up for us - and thankfully didn't swat us too hard with his twig branches.

The guys explained to us that each group has a signature mask style, mainly determined by a local artist responsible for carving the group's masks. Artists take a lot of creative liberties in creating the masks -- not even the people wearing the masks know what they will get until they are completed. Each year unique features are added but the overall style remains, keeping each Krampus group with a particular style while still pushing the envelope in terms of newest features. According to them, each mask starts at around 600 Euros and the rest of the costume starts at around 500 Euros. And of course there's a second hand market for the younger members who are just getting started. This particular group that stayed at our hostel designed and made their own cowbells and splatter with fake blood. The best part was that one of the cowbells doubled as a giant beer stein for use after the laufen. 

Before saying goodbye to Austria, we hit the slopes for an afternoon of skiing. It was a nice way to stretch our legs before the five hour drive home.