Austria’s weird Traditions: Krampus

Don’t you just love this time of the year? Snow is softly falling, there’s Christmas songs playing on the radio, people exchanging gifts, furry creatures chasing kids with a rod… wait what!? Yes. This is an actual tradition in Austria.

Thanks to popular culture, a number of bad movies and the Internet, chances are good that you’ve already heard about it. I never thought it was odd until I came to the US and talked about it with my friends. And the more I talked about it, the more I realized what a weird tradition it is: I’m talking about Krampus. And Krampus parades. And Krampus spanking people at those parades.

But you know me. I like weird stuff. This is why I’m devoting a whole post about this issue.

The tradition

So let’s start with the basics: Every year in winter time, there are parades in Austria where dozens of furry creatures gather. These creatures run through villages and towns. The reasons thereof may vary. It depends on which type of creature you’re dealing with. Because, yes. There’s two of them.

The creatures

Not only Krampus scares people during winter time. There’s also Perchten. These guys have a lot in common with Krampus, which is why they get mixed up a lot. They look pretty similar; both of them are furry, have scary, wooden masks with horns and both of them usually carry a rod along with cow bells around their waist.

Until this very day, my friends freak out if it’s wintertime and they hear the sound of cow bells ringing in the distance. Because it means there’s a Percht or Krampus nearby. But we’ll get back to that later. First, let me explain the differences between Percht and Krampus.

Krampus is a creature with a freakishly long, red tongue that resembles a goat.

Krampus is the companion of Saint Nicholas. It’s a creature with a freakishly long, red tongue that resembles a goat. But unlike the animal, he walks on two feet. Because he’s evolved. In early December, Krampus and Saint Nicholas go from house to house. While Nick rewards all the nice children and gives them sweet treats, it’s Krampus’ task to punish the naughty ones. He usually carries a rod and a bag. “We get it. He uses the rod to spank the kids. But what’s the bag for?”, you might ask. Well, he puts the bad children into it and takes them away, of course.

A Percht is furry too and doesn’t look any less scary than a Krampus. Its task, though, is a completely different one. Percht season usually starts in late December. The aim of these folks is to scare off winter demons.

Shared parades

As I already mentioned, though, people tend to mix them up. Sometimes, they even have shared parades; Krampus- und Perchtenlauf, they’d call it. It doesn’t matter. I think we can all agree that under the bottom line both are equally frightening.

And yet, people love them. Heck, I love them. I used to go to parades like these all the time, starting from when I was a kid. I never got spanked. Or did I? Wait, I think I did. That rod… that creepy face… The memories. It’s all coming back…

Another Krampus
Another Krampus

Growing up with this tradition

Sorry for that. Just wanted to make it a little bit more dramatic than it is. But yes, I did go to these parades. And there’s one in particular I remember.

You see, nowadays, they use iron fences to separate the Krampus/Perchten from the audience. They didn’t do that fifteen years ago, though. (Geez, I’m getting old!) So sometimes a Percht would come along and pick someone from the audience. They’d drag them out and proceed to spank them. Or a Krampus/Percht would go off trail and make his way through the audience. It’s all for the thrill. Usually, nobody gets harmed. After all, the rods are made of horse tail hair. Can’t be too painful, can it?

That one time it hurt

One time, though, I went to a parade and I was standing in the front row. Because I’m a good girl. Also, I’m not a winter demon. Neither Krampus or Percht would have a reason to go after me. So what’s there to be scared about, right?

Well here’s the thing: One Percht (or Krampus or whatever it was) tried to be smart and wrapped some type of around his rod. When he walked past me, he barely touched my upper thigh with his rod. But thanks to the wire it was pretty darn painful and even left a red mark. That’s about it, though. That’s my worst Krampus/Percht experience.


There’s always a black sheep that takes it too far and actually hurts people. But the people who organize these parades make great efforts to prevent incidents like these by banning alcohol before the parade starts, setting up guidelines as far as the equipment such as rods is concerned and making participants agree to a code of conduct.

I haven’t been to a parade like this in a while. But I still love both, Krampus and Perchten. And while my friends freak out when they merely hear the sound of a cow bell, I get all excited. Because during Christmas time, it can happen that there’s a Krampus randomly walking down the street. It’s a tradition and it’s peculiar. And I love peculiar things.

What’s the weirdest tradition your country has to offer? Tell me about it! Leave a comment or drop a message.