Krampus and St. Nikolaus

Today is the 6th of December, celebrated in Austria as St. Nikolaus Day – the day of St. Nikolaus. But the festival is now primarily a day for children and a Catholic holiday. The real attraction takes place the night before when Krampus roams the streets. In the middle ages, the main event of the Holiday Season fell on the 6th of December, on St. Nikolaus Day, when families gave each other gifts, but that was before Protestant reformers made war on saints and holidays held in their honor. Over time, even the Catholics caved in and moved the festival of gifts to the 25th of december, now celebrated everywhere as Christmas.

St. Nikolaus Day – the Day of St. Nick

St. Nikolaus still has his holiday on the 6th of December in Salzburg, and for that matter in many different parts of Europe. He is known by different names and the day celebrated with a variety of traditions. In the U.S. everyone knows him as Santa Claus. In what may be a throwback to the Celts, who thought a new day begins at sunset, St. Nikolaus Day starts on the evening of the 5th of December. It is the same with Christmas, which starts on Christmas Eve, or with All Saints Day, which begins on All Hallows Eve, loved by children as Halloween.

Krampus Day – the Day of the Devil

Krampus Mask

Krampus Mask
Created by Dominik Wohlmutter

Just like Halloween, when witches, goblins and other unholy folk are said to roam the earth, the 5th of December has its own devil, the Krampus, and the day is called Krampus Tag in German – the day of Krampus.The word Krampus comes from an old German word probably meaning the “Clawed One”. Though his origins might lie with the witches and goblins of Halloween, he now personifies the devil and accompanies St. Nikolaus on his rounds. As they have done for centuries, starting at dark on the 5th of December, the unlikely pair of Krampus and St. Nikolaus still makes its way through town. They go from house to house, visit the children of each family,  hand out gifts to children who had been good and punish those who were naughty. Whereas St. Nikolaus rarely appears without his companions, Krampus roams the streets on his own or in posses, attempting to scare the daylights out of crowds who have come to watch the event.

Krampus Parades and Krampus Runs

But like many traditions,  Krampus Day has transformed itself over the years. Nowadays Krampuses turn out in large groups to parade through towns in Austria. In Salzburg, as in other large towns, thousands of spectators line the street to watch the show. Once Krampus appeared only on the 5th of the 6th of December, now Krampus Parades are scheduled from the end of November until Christmas. Both Krampus and spectators can turn out in large numbers. This year, at the end of November, around 850 Krampuses from many different groups showed up for a Krampus Run in Gnigl, a town district of Salzburg. In addition, 10,000 spectators lined the street to watch the parade. And that was only near the beginning of the season.

To give you a flavor of such a parade, I found a Youtube video of a Krampus Parade in 2010 and embedded it below. It’s the best lit and the steadiest I found. Although the event takes place in Graz, Arnold’s Schwarzenegger’s home town, it most clearly conveys the flavor of the event.



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