Tirol is a ridiculous place. I’m talking fairytale ridiculous, with mountains, beautiful lakes, quaint villages and the relaxed pace of the countryside. I always feel like I’ve stepped into a Grimm Brothers tale when I visit.
The fairytale aspect is only enhanced whenever we spend time with the Misters family. His grandparents live in a traditional farmhouse. It was built by hand, there’s a burbling creek out the back with fish, a cow for your morning milk next door and a field backing onto the forest. I could not make it more stereotypically fairytale-esque if I tried.
But, like all great fairytales, there’s a flip-side. A terrifying, traditional, devilish flip-side.
They go by the name of ‘Krampus‘ or ‘Perchten’ (depending on your regionality.) They are truly horrible but put on the most spectacular show each year to serve a warning to naughty kids on the 5th of December.
While St Nikolaus is said to brings nuts, treats and chocolates to children who are well behaved on the 6th of December, Krampus is the scary devil who kidnaps naughty children from their families by throwing them into a coal sack and taking them to hell*. When they march into the village in their gigantic traditional masks, hand woven costumes and booming drums, while the fire pit burns in the village centre, you can almost believe you are back in fairytale-times and the devils will steal you away!
For the real impact though, you need to hear the drums, smell the smoke and have your heart skip a beat when a smaller teufel comes past and covers your face in black coal dust. The video below will give you a taste, but to really understand the fairytales of Tirol, you might just have to see for yourself….
*History nerd note – This is the colloquial version of events as told by locals in bars, on the village streets and when trying to terrify an Auslander like me!
Technically its only November, which means that any excitement about the impending holidays need to be kept at a minimum – but really, there’s Christmas markets already!! And decorations!! And everything is looking sparkly!!
Being on this side of the world for the leadup to Christmas is a bit like being taken to the authentic version of a Christmas Wonderland – with some added extras. There’s a LOAD more characters in an Austrian Christmas. The devil for one. Instead of our English tradition of naughty kids just getting coal in their Santa sacks, these guys go all out and threaten children with the DEVIL COMING no doubt to POSSESS YOUR SOUL if you are bad. There’s nothing quite so alarming as seeing cartoon devils plastered all over christmas chocolates, side by side with smiling snowmen. The obvious difference here is that Santa is not a thing – they have a nicer lady know as Kriskindle who visits and takes the place of Santa in most ways – sitting in public spaces for kids to come and spill their wishes to. Weirdly, she kinda has my hair and stole my look…were I to wear crowns and gowns daily….
“Come at me tiny ones, these sleeves will swallow you!!”
This may explain why small children tend to stare at me on trams, in the street and in Cafe’s. Obviously, they think I am about to shower them with love, gifts and glory. Disappointing for both of us really.
The other more sinister/fun thing they do here for Christmas is the Tyrolian tradition of Krampus and Perchten. Its the reigonal variety of the Devil coming beside St Nicholas (not the happy smiley fat guy you know, but the actual Saint) to punish small children while St Nick doles gifts to the good ones. Check out how goddamn terrifying this Krampus guy is in this heartwarming christmas card:
You can see the terror in that kids face!! Traditionally on the 6th of December to chase away the evil winter spirits there are street parades in villages where young men dress in these huge heavy Krampus costumes with belts of drums and bells and perform LOUDLY in the streets. You have to see it to believe it. Noise, chanting, black charcoal dust being thrown in people’s faces – its unbelievable. Pagan, exciting and crazy. My first week in Soll last year coincided with Krampus and I had no clue what was going on, except that Austrians were in equal measures crazy and fun. Nothing has changed my view since!!
Besides all this new found fun in Christmas tradition, I’m only just now realising how hilarious an Aussie christmas is in comparison to how ‘authentic’ these guys make it. We saw handmade wreaths, with fresh flowers and actual plants at the farmers markets in Graz on the weekend and I was gobsmacked – it’d never before occurred to me for wreaths to be anything but plastic. Same for trees, snow, mistletoe all the ‘symbols of Christmas’ that we replicate back home are actually real here! It sounds simple but has been a real eye-opener for me. However, I wouldn’t trade a Santa in boardies or a seaside pub meal on Christmas day for anything. Can’t actually wait for S to experience his first Aussie chrissie, in all its simulated, plastic, non-traditional glory. We get the best of both worlds this year – 4 weeks in Vienna enjoying stunning Christmas markets, gluwein, snow and Krampus celebrations then jetting back into the sunshine to rooftop bars, Framily BBQ’s and Christmas day on the beach. Perfect.