Krampus, the legendary demons of the Alps. A living testimony of European Paganism. Their origin, history, when and where to see them.
Krampus, the legendary demons of the Alps. Even if their fate was to be incorporated in Christian Europe, their origin is not Christian at all.
They are one of the many living testimonies of Pagan Europe; of how Christianity made pacts and inclusions with it to be accepted everywhere.
In fact, what was the celebration for the winter solstice became the day of St. Nicholas. They just could not get rid of the Krampus.
The Austrian government banned them in 1932 and after the war, pamphlets explaining that Krampus are evil creatures were distributed.
This is just one of the weirdest fusion beetwen paganesim and Christianity.
Try to imagine of these guys in the images below inside the church, at the altar with the priest.
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The History of Krampus
Very popular and alive in the Alpine regions (Italy, Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Slovakia, Check Republic, and Hungary), the existence of the Krampus tradition is dated between the V and VII secles d.C.
The origin of the name Krampus is attributed to the bavarian word krampn (death) or the old German word kramp (claws).
Before Christianity, these half-demons half-animal creatures were part of the winter solstice celebration but their origin is still unclear.
“[…] may have a connection with the initiation rites of certain witch-covens; rites which entailed binding and scourging as a form of mock-death. The chains could have been introduced in a Christian attempt to ‘bind the Devil’ but again they could be a remnant of pagan initiation rites” Maurice Bruce wrote.
After St. Nicholas defeated them they were forced to accompany him to represent the perfect balance of good end evil.
Austria prohibited the parade of the Krampus in 1932 and only at the end of the Nineties they gain back their fame.
The Legend of the Krampus
It is said that long ago, in times of famine, the young people of the small mountain villages disguised themselves using furs made up of feathers, skins, and animal horns.
Being so unrecognizable, they went around terrorizing the inhabitants of nearby villages, robbing them of the supplies necessary for the winter season.
After some time, the young people realized, however, that among them there was an impostor.
He was a demon, who, taking advantage of his real diabolical face had entered the group.
Humans recognize him as a demon thanks to the hoof-shaped goat legs.
Bishop Nicholas was therefore called to exorcise the disturbing presence and, of course, he defeated the demon.
Krampus Night or Krampusnacht
The party begins with Bishop San Nicola, usually towed on a cart, who interrogates the children and shows himself with a thick white beard.
With the children who have performed well during the year, he will be generous with small sweets and dry fruit.
For those who have not behaved well, there will be a bad reproach. In addition to this task, St. Nicholas must appease the ire of the Krampus towards the spectators.
The Krampus, in fact, are wilds, violent, and angry, and therefore on this particular evening, they give vent to those forces that remain repressed for the rest of the year.
With demoniac screams, moans, and more screams, the Krampus make their way to the village.
Children, boys, but also adults and the elderly, are punished, they don’t spare anyone who happens to be on their path.
They push people, giving heavy lashes and blows of the rod to the legs. Whips are usually cow tails.
As soon as the sun sets approaches, Saint Nicholas disappears from the parade, leaving the demons uncontrolled.
So, without inhibitions, the Krampus respond blow by blow to the provocations of the boys and adolescents.
The chases and pursuits by demons can last even hours, until darkness rewinds the parade of demons and, along the streets, it is no longer possible to see any of them.
Cowbells and chains announce the arrival of the demons, dressed in goat fur and wear often grotesque masks, topped with large horns.
Apparently, the chains are not traditional but added more recently to symbolize the defeat of the demons.
The masks are pieces of art from the long wood carving tradition of the Alpine Region.
To create traditional Krampus masks local artists use mostly Swiss pine, linden, and Scots pine.
Alongside the local timber, goat, or sheep fur and ram horns, the use of acrylic colors and long-lasting paints is fundamental to give the right facial expression.
Details such as glass or ceramic eyes and African kudu horns or reproduced in plastic.
Where to See the Krampus Parade
Krampus Parades in Italy are in Trentino Alto Adige, Friuli Venezia Giulia, and Veneto Regions, in almost all the Austrian villages, Bavaria, Slovenia and Hungary.
The villages where to see one of these events are hundreds, all the same day, December 5th. Here some of the more famous: