With villages throughout South Tyrol bracing themselves for the annual Krampus invasion, it feels like a set of a horror movie. Interestingly, this age-old custom is currently seeing a revival in popularity.
Before sweeping into the villages, the tension on the streets on the night of 5th December is palpable, any little sound rattling the nerves. This event is also commemorated in Naturns/Naturno, when hordes of terrifying ‘devils’ descend on the village. With cattle horns mounted on their heads, their faces covered in grimacing animal masks, the shaggy-cloaked Krampus menacingly rattle chains and clang cowbells as they sweep through the streets chasing terrified youngsters. Those unfortunate enough to find themselves on the streets at that time flee home along the backstreets. Only the Tuifeltratzer (or ‘devil-baiters’ – brazen young males) dare to confront the Krampus. The taunting goes on for a while, and the outcome depends on whether the youthful challenger is able to outrun the “devil”. Most often it ends with a sooty face and a few bruises here and there.
Drawn from old Alpine folklore, the Krampus are demonic figures that precede the arrival of St. Nicholas during the Advent season. While St. Nicholas rewards good children, the Krampus (also known as Tuifl), are there to punish those that misbehave. Although this old tradition has acquired religious overtones, the old custom probably originated in pre-Christian times, representing the purging of the harsh Alpine winters.