December 3, 2008

Merry Christmas from Austria!

He’s incredibly ugly. He carries a stick to frighten naughty childen in the Yuletide season. And as if all that weren’t bad enough, his name is Krampusz (from the old German krampen: “claw”).

Meet Austria’s resident seven-foot tall Christmas mascot. Krampusz looks a little bit like Pan’s rougher cousin after a bacchanalian bender. As explained by Der Spiegel, starting on December 5, the longstanding tradition was for folks to dress up as Krampusz and then go around the neighborhood knocking on doors. If children answered, the faux-Krampuszs would brandish switches, ring cowbells, and basically make the kids REALLY look forward to the arrival of Saint Nicholas.

This frightening routine was well-established before the Inquisition, which began in the 13th century. The threat of torture and execution was enough to get the Austrians to lay off the Krampusz fun/heresy for a few centuries, but the hairy fellow made a comeback in the 1600s, and he's stuck around ever since.

The town of Schladming is the epicenter of the Krampusz society. It holds a parade with over a thousand Krampuszs that includes lots of revelry and cowbells (yes!). As they say in Austria: Krampusz gerne Partei. ("Krampusz likes to party.") Check a Krampusz enthusiasts' site (auf Deutsch) here. (And if you hear cowbells on the 5th, don't answer your door.)

No comments: