Nothing says Christmas like mulled wine with raisins and tangerines, laughing children, a 20-foot tall fir tree, a parade of woolly-haired demons, and a band thrashing to heavy metal. But that’s how the Czechs in Kaplice carry on the season, along with many other villages across the Alpine and sub-Alpine lands. In the Czech Republic, by far the most biggest and most famous is the Krampus Kaplice festival in South Bohemia.
The tradition is not without historical precedent. As Christianity spread throughout the region, Santa Claus--short for Saint Nicholas for my European friends who are confused about the jolly giant of Anglo lore--needed some help with his piling list of duties. Not only did he have to take care of his reindeer, manage his growing army of elven woodworkers, keep a list of naughty and good children, somehow balance a loving marriage with Mrs. Clause, and hand out presents to all the various good kids of the world, he also had to start giving coal to the bad kids. Mama mia! he might have said. Though he was Greek and I’m not overly sure what those olive pickers are prone to saying when exasperated.
Santa starts the parade
And then one foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say, “What if we enslaved us a pagan deity of the Alps? I hear those Austrians and Swiss are hardworking folk, their old gods ought to be as well.” So Santa, with a team of some forty elves, sought the woolen haired, goat horned old god named Krampus. Luckily for Santa, pagan gods are prone to heavy drinking and dancing. So he got together a few of Mrs. Claus’s single ladies and set them to work.
Before the night was through, Krampus was in chains with a giant bell hanging off his back.
the most traditional versions have bells and baskets on their back
But it wasn’t such a bad thing. He got to relax and drink mulled wine for most of the year at his nice cushy pad at the North Pole. And in December, he gets to revisit his old haunts and torment young children and pretty ladies, slapping them with bundles of birch and generally terrifying them with any number of untold nightmares before Christmas. The tradition continues The tradition started in the 1600s, when it was mostly relegated to local village parades. It would start off with Santa Claus, followed by someone dressed up in sheep's wool, horns, and chains, symbolizing something like Christianity's victory over paganism, casting Santa Claus into an almost Solomon-like position, with an army of demons to do his bidding.
his bidding includes modifying a motorcycle and updating his sleigh
The tradition expanded recently, with the advent of costume technology and secularism. The two together were a powerful formula in translating a once semi-serious religious thing to just an all-out medley of bizarre.
Nowadays, Krampus is still celebrated with a visit from a devilish figure in the company of Santa Clause to tease the children on Saint Nick’s Day, December 6th. Major Krampus parades are held in Kaplice, Czech Republic on the weekend after, and a few other towns in the mountains of Austria, and also in Munich, which has a parade not only the Sunday after, but also the Sunday after that.
One man's Christmas is another man's Halloween
We discovered this seemingly-Satanic festival of the Krampus a couple of years ago, reading through a local expat forum, and immediately decided that this was something we had got to attend. Last year we packed our bags, found the nearest hotel, and made for Kaplice. This year we'll be in Munich, so I'll be sure to keep you updated.
waiting for the parade to begin
We arrived in Kaplice at about 4:00 pm. The parade would start at 6:00 pm, but already people were filling up all the available spots along the route barriers. It was really quite incredible and frustrating, though having some live music up on stage made waiting around a bit more tolerable. We immediately found a good position and staked it out. Like a good husband, I sent my wife back and forth to fetch me mulled wines as I strong armed people away from taking her spot.
rent a car and drive to Kaplice
Maybe it says something about the Czech character, but I was surprised about how many children were out for what basically was a Gwar concert procession. But I thought that was pretty cool.
it's all in good fun
The parade begins The parades star a long line of Krampus teams, each in thematic uniform, their own versions of the shaggy demigod, most being a bit overly demonic, as though they were using costumes that were recycled from Finnish death metal music videos. Indeed, the entire night was something right out of a death metal video.
armed with birch, the Krampus is ready to whip sinners
The procession lasted for two hours. The Krampii ran up, shouted, jumped on the barriers, threw away the barriers, whipped people with birches, and poked children on their noses and waved at them. A couple of times a Krampus actually stole a child and carried them around the parade, but it was all in good fun. The only crying child I witnessed was when the parade was over. The two-year old girl next to me was pissed that there were no more walking nightmares treading the grounds.
Krampus looking for naughty kids
My wife and I were a bit glad that it had ended, since our legs were red from all the whippings. If you're planning to attend, note where all the advertisement banners are hanging off the railings and stand behind one of those!
there were a lot of pyrotechnic displays as well
Time to cry After two hours, a huge fireworks show lit up the sky and then the after parties started up. But being married to a lovely wife, I had my own after party to attend to. So we made like Santa and left Kaplice.
So if you're in Czech Republic, Austria, or Bavaria this Christmas, December 10th, 2017, look for a Krampus parade near you!