For as long as I have loved monsters, I have adored the idea of the Krampus. Whether you like to think of the Krampus as Santa’s counterpart or a representation of the horned god of the witches or the son of Hel in Norse mythology, the Krampus is fascinating. The figure is not without controversy, having been banned in Austria by fascist regimes in 1920s and facing a government-led propaganda campaign in the 1950s. Clearly, none of that worked to dampen enthusiasm for the Krampus–in that region or anywhere else.
Apparently there are Krampus celebrations that happen in the U.S., but most of them are sanitized and lame. An old friend of mine has been instrumental in the Philly-based Parade of Spirits, which started out as a Krampuslauf (and, I guess, sort of still is)–which is decidedly not lame–but that’s a whole different story. My point is that I really wanted to experience a Krampuslauf or Krampusnacht for myself. You know, in a place where it’s a real part of the culture.
Perhaps Munich really wasn’t the best option–I’m told that the Krampusnachts in Graz and Salzberg (in Austria) are truly the creepiest and best of the festivals. However, Munich is what worked for this year, timing-wise–and, not for nothing, but the Munich Krampuslauf still gets very crowded, even if it is toned down and tourist-friendly.
Let me tell you: Munich’s Krampuslauf may be tourist-friendly, but my bruised shins can testify that the Krampuses do not go soft with their bundles of birch sticks (it probably didn’t help that I was wearing leggings, which offer no protection against getting whipped). I was clearly a naughty girl this year and in need of punishment. Or maybe I did get off light–the legend of the Krampus does include the occasional kidnapping of extra bad kids. So there’s that.
I’m told that something like 200 people from at least 25 different clubs or towns participated in the Krampuslauf this year. Each club/town wears a different style of Krampus costume. Mr. Pretty says it reminds him of the Mummers Parade in Philadelphia, with its parade of wench brigades. But instead of drunk dudes in bad drag, it’s monsters. The costumes at a Krampuslauf are definitely better (no doubt my Philadelphia card is likely being revoked right now–how dare I impugn the wenches!)–the costumes are typically several thousand euros, and the masks are sometimes hand-carved. Many of the Krampuses wear enormous bells on their backs, making the atmosphere raucous and chaotic, to say the least.
Hear for yourself:
And, of course, it’s not just the Krampus in the Krampuslaufs and Krampusnachts–you will also see Frau Perchta, an ancient Alpine pagan goddess whose followers would don masks of her likeness and wear them in public processions as her entourage, to ward off evil spirits and ghosts. Maybe because Frau Perchta doesn’t like the competition: she is know to visit children between Christmas and the feast of Epiphany, rewarding good children with a silver coin and punishing the bad kids by disemboweling them and stuffing their empty cavities with straw. I guess the Krampuses look scarier, but I’d rather be whipped or kidnapped by one of them than be disemboweled by Frau Perchta!
There are other characters, as well. The parade was led by St. Nicholas (not Santa Claus) and a bevy of angels. There was occasionally a basket carrier (generally an old guy). The Munich parade this year also had a giant grim reaper, complete with an enormous scythe–the funniest part of that was seeing little kids run out into the parade route to have their photos taken with him.