Travel: We wish you a scary Christmas

There is much more to the Christmas season in this part of the world than twinkling Weihnachtsmarkts, hot glüwein, roasted chestnuts, and spiced lebkuchen. For one thing, the winter holidays have a decidedly spooky side in the Bavarian and Austrian Alps.

Krampus and Perchta, devilishly wicked-looking creatures from Alpine folklore, come out after sunset beginning in late November, ringing cowbells, clanging chains, banging drums, and swatting naughty children (and adults) with birch branches and horsehair whips. Troupes of these elaborately costumed Krampusses and Perchten amuse and menace spectators in scheduled events throughout Bavaria and Austria, now through Epiphany, on Jan. 6.
According to Alpine folklore that may pre-date Christianity, the goat-like Krampus punishes naughty children on Krampusnacht, Dec. 5, and then St. Nicholas rewards the good children on his feast day, Dec. 6. At a Krampuslauf, or Krampus Run, in Salzburg on Nov. 25, cacophonous gangs of Krampusses shook hands with small children and chased and swatted at teens and adults, most of whom shrieked and ran away, laughing.

Be warned if you go: some Krampusses whip bystanders hard enough to sting or leave a welt, and unaccustomed children and pets may find the Krampuslauf genuinely frightening.

Perchta, who sports a greater array of horns than Krampus and usually has mismatched feet, can often be spotted in the Krampuslauf. Traditionally however, she makes her big scheduled runs on the winter solstice, Dec. 21, and again at Epiphany, dispelling winter with bells and loud instruments.

While the Swabian region, including Stuttgart, does not have Krampus or Perchta in its winter holiday traditions (its demonic holiday punisher is an elvin-like creature called Pelznickel), there are numerous Krampus-related events in nearby cities. Münich has scheduled Krampuslauf at 1500 and 1700 on Dec. 11 and at 1600 an 1700 on Dec. 18 in the old town center, Marienplatz. In Salzburg, several Krampuslauf have been scheduled between Dec. 3 and Dec. 8, with six runs planned around the city on Dec. 5 alone: http://www.salzburg.info/en/art_culture/advent_new_years_eve/krampus_percht?page=1. Innsbruck also has numerous Krampuslauf on the calendar in surrounding villages and in the city during the first week of December: https://www.innsbruck.info/en/innsbruck-city/events/advent-and-christmas/krampus-and-st-nikolaus.html.

Published 12/01/2016, The Stuttgart Citizen, http://www.stuttgartcitizen.com/lifestyle/krampus-runs-eerie-holiday-traditions-in-austria-bavaria/

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