The Austrian Krampus Run
Charlotte is a recent graduate in English and American Studies student from the University of Leicester and spent her year abroad (2010-2011) at the University of Salzburg in Austria. Here she describes her first experience of the Krampus Run...Want to scare yourself silly? Forget Halloween and Thorpe Park Fright Nights. Get yourself to your local Austrian Krampus Run...
I was waiting for an appropriate time of year to write this article on Krampus. With the event itself associated with Christmas, my timing is a little out but with Halloween gracing the darkest of our doorways last week, I thought writing on one of my most horrifying Erasmus experiences abroad was fitting.
When Krampus posters started emerging around Salzburg in October, my friends and I were still in our early honeymoon weeks with the city. Mountains, strudel and the Sound of Music tours were still novelty and we were yet to experience many of the real Austrian traditions that surface between Oktoberfest and Weihnachten (Christmas). If I was to ask what you would associate Austrian Christmas Markets with, I’m sure a lot of you would say glühwein and bratwurst, maybe gingerbread and oom-pah bands. But few would conjure up the image of hundreds of locals dressed in monstrous devil costumes parading through the streets of towns and cities, led by their good friend, Saint Nicholas.
Usually occurring in the first week of December, the Krampus Run is of Pre-Christian Eastern European tradition, occurring in not only Austria, but Slovenia and Hungary to name a few. Of ancient origins, Krampus started as villagers dressed up in goat-like, mythical costumes to put on plays and to parade around the town, many believing that Hallowe'en is a natural descendent from these Pagan customs. Over the years, the Krampus became St. Nicholas’ so-called right hand man and brought a darker side to Christmas, posing as a threat to those village children who thought they could be naughty little tykes and get away with it. Oh no, if you misbehaved, you would be faced with Beelzebub himself and punished with a good whipping. And there would certainly be no presents.
So after Google-ing and Youtube-ing ‘Krampus’, I was completely and utterly set against partaking in this unconventional and frankly terrifying experience, but it is quite amazing what a bit of peer pressure can install upon oneself. I was ‘dragged’ along by my Erasmus friends to the main shopping street of Salzburg, Getreidegasse, where we joined hundreds of waiting Austrians. In the faint distance, the sound of bells could be heard and after a tense few minutes, around the corner came a scene from my worst horror movie imaginable, weirdly set under the charming Christmas lights.
A good hundred hairy, horned, hunched, horrifying looking devils, led by St. Nicholas, began stamping down the street. At this point, I was videoing the experience. This didn’t last long. I have about 7 seconds of footage where you can hear me screaming as I realised the Krampus were targeting anyone with cameras. The Irish, Greeks and Italians with me, along with the native Austrians were just smiling away, laughing as the Krampus ran up to little children and teenage boys, pushing them up against walls and giving them a light whipping! I, on the other hand, was bawling my eyes out in sheer horror which, looking back, was absolutely pathetic. There were kids about 3 years old laughing in the face of monsters and there I was, 20 and crying for my Mummy. And then I was spotted. A Krampus with red eyes, ram horns and a leather whip started pounding the pavement towards me. I screamed and hid in a corner but he got to me and whipped me across the back of the legs. I was shaking by now; again, pathetic as hell.
Whilst the rest of my friends went off to follow the monsters around the rest of the city, I went and sat in McDonalds with a hot chocolate and felt sorry for myself. Not only by how ridiculously precious I’d been, but also how the Krampus obviously had felt I had been naughty enough to get a whipping. It held me in the fear that all I’d be getting for Christmas that year was a lump of coal.