Advent Traditions: Perchten and Krampusses
Before the peace & quiet of the Christmas season sets in for good, things briefly become quite noisy in the Alpine region: That’s when the Krampusses get up to their mischief, attempting to drive away evil with their loud bells and roars. The Perchten and other strange characters who roam the streets at this time of year have many different names – and faces. Even quite beautiful on occasion!
Perchten are an ancient Alpine folk tradition that you can experience personally between November and December during your holidays in Austria and Bavaria. As is so often the case in life, there are two sides to the Perchten, good and evil: the beautiful Perchten ("Schönperchten") and the ugly Perchten ("Schiachperchten").
The Schönperchten bear good wishes for the New Year, whereas the Schiachperchten drive away the evil spirits of wintertime and are guaranteed to give goosepimples to many a person, not just the kids. No wonder: Those ugly Krampusses, with their carved masks, shaggy pelts and loud bells, are really scary creatures. Many a naughty child has the threat of a visit from the Perchten looming over their head. Adults also occasionally prefer the safer confines of their own home just after nightfall during Krampus season…
No one needs to be concerned about the Schönperchten however: They are quite impressive with their beautifully constructed headdresses, whilst the so-called Tresterer - with their mystical dances and costumes - perform in the Pinzgau region, for example in Zell am See and Stuhlfelden near Uttendorf.
Krampus Parades in Austria
The "Kramperl" traditionally accompany Saint Nicholas, who pays the children a visit on 6 December. Between the end of November and the beginning of December, you might witness a so-called "Krampusrummel" or "Krampuslauf". In some cases, these are major events with hundreds of Krampusses participating. The Krampus parades in Ennstal, such as the one in Schladming, as well as Murtal and throughout Salzburger Land are especially famous.**
The masks and pelts worn by the Krampusses have changed remarkably throughout the decades. Whereas in some places you have the sense that the Orks of Mordor are on the loose, there are other valleys and communities where they follow tradition more closely and their Krampusses have the same appearance today as they did back in former times. As is the case, for example, in Raurisertal and neighboring Gasteinertal.
Perchten like in the olden days: Rauriser Toifin
The Rauriser Toifi* parade through Rauris on 5 December. Roaring loudly, carrying a switch, wearing a sheepskin coat with bells tied around their belly. The wood-carved face masks are painted, black, white and red, a red tongue made of cloth hanging from the mouth; their heads crowned by goat horns. These wild creatures are accompanied by St. Nick, two angels and the “Vortoifi”. It is he who asks for admission to the farms and homes of Rauris, chanting the words: “Griass Gott, liawe Leit. Hiaz sama do - de Toifin und da Nikolo. Wenn ma eina deafn, oft sog‘ da Hausherr jo.” In the early evening, you might allow yourself to be scared by the Toifin on the market square in Rauris, the reward for your bravery being a small gift bag from St. Nick. The tradition of the Rauriser Toifi actually goes all the way back to gold-mining days. (*Toifi = devil)
Perchten Parades in Salzburger Land
Toifin also take part in the big Perchten parades, of course. This includes the Pongauer Perchtenlauf, the biggest of its kind in Salzburger Land. It has been held since the late 1950s, alternating between Altenmarkt, Bischofshofen, St. Johann and Gasteinertal. Every year on 6 December, between 250 and 400 Perchten parade through one of those four Pongau communities. They stick to the centuries-old tradition: only males are allowed, also in the roles of the female characters. All kinds of traditional figures can be admired including the Tafelperchten, Baumwerker, Schnabelperchten, Habergeiss, Hans Wurscht and many more. Though all bring with them good wishes for health, prosperity and peace in the coming year.
Lots of hard work, passion and team spirit are invested by the local heritage societies in creating this eerily special experience. If you are in the mood to encounter the local Perchten traditions close to the ALPS RESORT accommodations where you are staying, our employees at the ALPS reception desks will be happy to provide you with further details. Take my word for it, the Perchten have to be seen to be believed! If only from a safer distance…
Photo materials © title picture and Rauriser Toifi: TVB Rauris, Krampus parade in Bischofshofen: Salzburger Land Tourismus GmbH, Tresterer: Zell am See-Kaprun Tourismus, Tafelperchten in Gastein & Perchten parade: Gastein Tourismus Gmbh / Marktl Photography
** To find out when specific Perchten events will be held, please visit the webpages of the local tourist offices in question.