The Krampus Run:
Alpine Nightmare?
The Krampus Run:

The Krampus Run:

Alpine Nightmare?

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.
The Krampus punishes misbehaving children.
While not as widespread, the Krampus tradition has been gaining in popularity, and is now more popular than ever in the Alpine regions. Following the re-formation in 2006, the Krampus Association in Naturns currently numbers 70 members. But even joining the club comes at a significant cost, with costumes that can cost up to € 2000.

Krampus are usually men dressed up in shaggy outfits, their faces covered by scary masks. While it used to be the preserve of single males, nowadays women may also be a Krampus. During the world wars of the 20th Century, when most of the menfolk were away, women not only kept the farms going, but also donned the Krampus costumes – without any fuss being made!
Being a Krampus is expensive: the price of a costume with fur and mask can amount to several thousand euros.
Even though Krampus night might sometimes still get a little out of hand, Krampus devils nowadays are more constrained in what they can get up to. While the old Krampus runs were a bit of a free for all, and one didn’t quite know who had just doled out a beating, the event has been toned down considerably. Supported by local municipal authorities, this old custom has evolved into a folk spectacle, and is subject to strict rules. The anonymity of the Krampus is also something of the past. Nowadays, each ‘devil’ has to wear an ID number, allowing traceability in the event of malpractice.

Watching the event unfold from a safe distance, those erstwhile scary nights seem just a distant childhood memory, when the unbridled Krampus rampaged through Naturns. With groups of young boys confronting the Krampus before fleeing, this one-time scary event can be experienced as a bonding rite of passage.
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