December, the month of Christmas. The cities light up with lights, illuminations and festively decorated Christams trees. But December is also the coldest month of the year and the one with the shortest days. A month of contrasts that certainly put a strain on the inhabitants of the mountain villages from Trentino- South Tyrol to Slovakia. In this scenary, during the night of December 5th, Krampus were unleashed through the streets of these villages. But what are Krampus?
Krampus are devils, goat-men with frightening faces and ragged, dirty, worn clothes. They wander the streets of the villages causing noises by bells or horns, while they are looking for “naughty” children and occasionaly whipping people.
It is curious that dressing up as Krampus are exclusively men and the mask should never be removed in the public, as well as spectators should never try to take it off, otherwise the disgrace for the unmasked Krampus.
Origins of Krampus: the legend
The origins of Krampus must be refer over 500 years ago, at the time of Paganism.
It is said that long times ago, during famine, the young boys from small mountain villages used to disguise themselves with furs and clothes made of feathers, skins and animal horns. Being so unrecognizable, they went around terrorizing the inhabitants of the nearby villages, robbing them of the provisions necessary for the winter season. After some time, the young boys realized, however, that among them there was an impostor: it was the devil himself, who taking advantage of his real diabolical face had joined the group. He was however recognizable only becauso of his
cloven-hoof shaped legs.
Bishop Nicholas was then called to exorcise this disturbing presence. Defeated the devil, every year the young boys, disguised as demons, parade along the streets of the villages. Nowadays, they no longer plunder, but they bring gifts, or to “swat naughty children”, accompanied by the figure of the bishop who had defeated the evil.
The Krampus Run
Every December 5th, the night before the arrival of Saint Nicholas (December 6th), in the regions of Trentino-Alto Adige, Austria, Bavaria, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Slovenia and Hungary, the Krampus run, also called Krampuslauf in German, are held.
The parade usually begins with the bishop Saint Nicholas who parades on a cart and tries to calm the anger of Krampus. Once the darkness goes down, Saint Nicholas disappears from the parade, leaving Krampus uncontrolled. Krampus, in fact, are wild, violent and very angry. During the Krampus Night, the evils vent the forces that remain repressed throughout the year. Screaming, grunting and shouting, they chase the children, the boys, but also the adults and the elderly, pushing, swatting and whipping the legs of anyone who happens on their path.
Nothing dangerous, I’d like to stress! Every Krampus, nowadays, is marked with a number (a label on the back of their costume). This number is used to mark them in case of misconduct or other problems. In any case, if you do not want to come into direct contact with Krampus, I suggest you not to be in the front row.
The first Night of Krampus: the parade in Predazzo
Personally, I went to the Krampus Night in Predazzo, in Fiemme Valley (Trento). Yesterday, Saturday December 2nd, 2018, over 300 ugly Krampus paraded through the streets of the old town from 6 p.m. Horns, cowbells, whips, fireworks and smoke bombs, as well as surprisingly modified and noisy tractors and lawnmowers. A very folkloristic and entertaining show, even though many children were quite afraid!
Krampuslauf in Trentino-Alto Adige/ South Tyrol
Apart from Predazzo, generally in Trentino and South Tyrol areas the Krampus Runs, as tradition, are held on December 5th. These kind of events are held almost in all the region, so I suggest you to take a look directly on the local websites!