Taking on Krampus isn’t a good idea! | Posted: 09 September 2016
Winter snow breaks in Austria
Winter snow breaks in Austria
Winter snow breaks in Austria

Some festive traditions leave you with a rosy glow inside. Others are the stuff of nightmares, as Peter Williamson discovers...

In the Germanic countries of Europe, Santa Klaus has long had an alter-ego – his big, bad brother, Krampus – and he couldn’t be more different.

Whereas rosy-cheeked Santa rewards those who are well-behaved with nice gifts and presents, Krampus, a horned and hairy half-goat, half-demon figure, takes great delight in birching naughty children before carting them off to the underworld in a basket on his back, never to be seen again – or so the legend goes.

His name comes from the German word Krampen, meaning claw, and this horned, clawed and fanged creature certainly comes into his own on 6 December, St Nicholas’s Day. For this is the day when children traditionally place offerings outside their homes hoping that St Nicholas will reciprocate by leaving gifts for them if they’ve been good. Woe betide any that are deemed bad for they shall receive a birch stick in place of any gifts with which Krampus will thrash them!

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Magnificent Salzburg

On our short break in Salzburg's Altstadt, the city’s many festive celebrations centre on Cathedral Square, brimming with traditional crafts, delicious Christmas delicacies, and aromatic tree ornaments.

More about our festive breaks in Salzburg >

Festive Fuschl

Alternatively, head into the ethereal beauty of the snowy Salzkammergut mountains to explore the handsome villages that nestle along the shores of pretty Lake Fuschl, and encounter equally captivating traditional Christmas fairs.

More about our festive breaks in Fuschl >

Modern incarnations certainly emphasise the claws, sharp teeth and horns, their masks and costumes guaranteed to instil fear into the hardiest young soul. Initially invented to frighten children into being good – a festive bogey man – the legend has undergone something of a revival over recent years and December’s Krampusnacht (Krampus Night) is celebrated in a carnival atmosphere across many regions of Austria, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic.

Watch this video >

However, a word of warning! In some towns and villages, gangs of hard-core Krampusse take to the streets for the annual Krampuslauf – the Krampus Run. As they scour the streets looking for victims, foolhardy challengers enter the fray determined to get the better of the Krampusse. With both sides fuelled by an excess of Glühwein, it’s all-out war, the victors meting out some rather ‘boisterous and enthusiastic’ punishment, to say the least, to those they capture. Approach with caution if you encounter them... or run!

Watch video >

To soften Krampus' nightmare-ish image, the Austrian authorities are now trying to make him more palatable (commercially saleable!) by selling chocolate figurines, children’s Krampus masks and collectible devil’s horns. Before you know it he’ll be hanging on your Christmas tree.

Sweet dreams...

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