krampus in Toblach - pic by 3Zinnen Dolomites

Krampus, the scariest Christmas tradition in the Dolomites

The period leading up to Christmas in the Dolomites is full of magic. Not only for the snow that makes everything soft, for the Christmas markets that animate the squares and historic centers, but above all for the traditions and folklore events that mark the days until December 25th.

Among the ones that fascinate us the most are the Krampus and Saint Nicholas. Let’s see together the origins of this suggestive feast, particularly linked to Toblach and South Tyrol in general.

What are krampus?

Krampus - foto di Jernej Furman from Slovenia, CC BY 2.0

Krampus – picture by di Jernej Furman from Slovenia, CC BY 2.0

The word Krampus comes from the Bavarian word “krampn,” which means “dead”, “putrid.” Indeed, Krampus are mythological and demonic creatures with a frightening appearance, with horns, hooves, and a long tail. According to popular tradition, they accompany St. Nicholas on his visit to children.

These terrifying creatures wear devilish masks, are dressed in goat or sheepskin, and are armed with whips, chains, and bells. Their job is to scare naughty children and take them to their dark world.

Where does the krampus come from?

Le origini dei krampus

Origins of the krampus

The origins of Krampus are ancient and not entirely clear. Some scholars link the origins of this tradition to the ancient and legendary figure of Perchta, the Germanic goddess of winter, who appeared to “good” and well-behaved children in the form of a beautiful and kind woman, while to “bad” children she manifested herself as a frightening demon.

Others, on the other hand, link it to the figure of Bishop Saint Nicholas. It is said that in a small alpine village in the mountains, during a cold winter of famine, some young people disguised themselves with fur, feathers, and horns in order not to be recognized, while scaring the inhabitants of the nearby villages and stealing their food.

After a while, the young people realized that a demon had infiltrated their group. To exorcise his presence, Bishop Saint Nicholas was called. Once he defeated evil, the young people celebrated the Saint with a procession through the streets of the village, while they were still masked as demons.

Since then, the Krampus festival begins with Bishop Saint Nicholas leading the parade, before leaving the field free to the demons.

Where and when to see the krampus

The Krampus Night is on December 5th, the evening before Saint Nicholas Day, but the Krampus parades take place on different dates depending on the location.

Krampus a Dobbiaco - di Luca Lorenzi (Llorenzi), CC BY-SA 3.0

Krampus in Toblach – by Luca Lorenzi (Llorenzi), CC BY-SA 3.0

In Toblach, the Krampus parade takes place on December 8th at around 6 pm and is one of the oldest and most evocative. More than 500 terrifying demons roam the streets of the center, scaring children with their bells and demonic masks, and waving whips in the air to hit adults.

In Sexten, the Krampus parade takes place on the evening of December 9th with a large procession with fire and flames. In Bozen, the parade will take place on December 7th, while in Brunico on December 6th.