Celebrating the Winter Demon
Each winter the residents of the Tyrolean region of Austria, Bavaria, northern Italy, and parts of Switzerland celebrate Krampuslauf (Germany) or Perchtenlauf (Austria). The ceremony originated in ancient pagan ritual worshiping nature spirits during winter solstice and harvest festivals, and was forbidden by the Catholic Church, but the tradition continued secretly and the Church accommodated it by syncretically merging it with Catholic ideology in the late 16th century. Since that time, on St. Nicholas Eve, December 5, St. Nicholas, dressed as a white-bearded bishop, parades through the streets promising gifts to good children. He is accompanied by Krampus, a hairy demonic figure with a long tongue who stuffs naughty children in his basket and carries them to his lair to eat. The German name comes from the word Krampen, meaning claws.
A modern Krampus mask in Graz, with realistic features and a gruesome effect, December 2014.
In many towns, such as Graz, Austria, the Krampuslauf takes the form of a parade, and in modern times the Krampus greatly outnumber the St. Nicholases. They carry switches made of birch sticks (or sometimes horse tail) to whip naughty (more accurately, random) children in the crowd, perform scary antics, and clown with witches. The Krampus costume consists of leather boots, a full body suit of goat leather and fur, leather boots, leather or goat fur gloves, and leather belts with giant bells to make noise as the Krampus walks.