Krampus Night Date in the current year: December 5, 2024

Krampus Night Although in most countries of Western and Central Europe Christmas is the most important winter holiday, in some of them children are also given present on Saint Nicholas Day. In a number of countries Saint Nicholas’s Eve is known as Krampus Night (Krampusnacht).

Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children, served as the prototype for several figures that bring presents to good children, including Sinterklaas, Santa Claus and Father Christmas. Although the American Santa Claus is probably the most famous these days, in some countries children still believe in Saint Nicholas as well. These countries include Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and some others.

Saint Nicholas is usually accompanied by an assistant or several assistants. His best known helpers are Zwarte Piet (“Black Pete”) and Krampus. Krampus is simultaneously Saint Nicholas’s antipode; while Nicholas brings gifts to well-behave children, Krampus is supposed to punish those who misbehave.

The figure of Krampus originated in Alpine folklore during pre-Christian times. He was an anthropomorphic personification of winter associated with the onset of cold weather and the days getting shorter. Following the Christianization of Europe, the church tried to ban pagan rituals involving the figure of Krampus, but the tradition persisted. Eventually Krampus transformed into Saint Nicholas’s helper.

Krampus may be portrayed slightly differently in different regions, but he usually looks like a horned anthropomorphic creature covered in black or brown fur, with cloven hooves, a long, pointed tongue and fangs. His traditional attributes are chains that he trashes for dramatic effect, birch branches or a whip to punish misbehaving children, and sometimes a basket or a sack strapped to Krampus’s back to cart off misbehaving children.

Western Christians celebrate the feast of Saint Nicholas on December 6, and in some countries Saint Nicholas’s Eve is known as Krampus Night (Krampusnacht in German). On the night of December 5, revelers in Krampus costumes flood the streets, scaring passers-by. A Krampus costume typically consists of a carved wooden mask with goat horns and goatskin or lambskin clothing.

Krampuses in Krampus runs (Krampusläufe) are often accompanied by female figures known as Perchten. Perchta was originally a goddess of winter in Alpine paganism. Since then, she has evolved into a devil-like winter spirit similar to Krampus. Perchten usually have long white hair and wear long black dresses, fur coats and intimidating horned masks carved from wood. To placate Krampus and Perchten during Krampus runs, it is customary to give them schnapps.

Krampus Night is most popular in Austria, where the first ever national Krampus parade featuring 200 mummers took place in 2013. However, the tradition has spread beyond the Alpine region in recent years. In some US cities, for example, Krampus processions on December 5 kick off the Christmas season.

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