Now this is what I call going old school for Christmas.
Long before parents relied on the powers of Santa Claus to monitor their children’s behavior, their counterparts in Alpine villages called on a shaggy-furred, horned creature with a fistful of bound twigs to send the message that they had better watch out.
Tom Bierbaumer recalls the trepidation he felt every Dec. 6, when the clanging of oversize cowbells signaled the arrival of the Krampus, a devilish mountain goblin who serves as an evil counterpart to the good St. Nick. He would think back over his misdeeds of past months — the days he had refused to clear the supper table, left his homework unfinished or pulled a girl’s hair.
“When you are a child, you know what you have done wrong the whole year,” said Mr. Bierbaumer, who grew up in the Bavarian Alps and now heads a Munich-based club, the Sparifankerl Pass — Bavarian dialect for “Devil’s Group” — devoted to keeping the Krampus tradition alive. “When the Krampus comes to your house, and you are a child, you are really worried about getting a hit from his switch.”
Besides visiting homes with St. Nicholas, the Krampus has for centuries run through village and town centers spreading pre-Christmas fear and chasing away evil spirits. That tradition dwindled across much of Bavaria during the 1960s and ’70s, as postmodern society moved away from its rural past.
But with cultural homogenization spreading across an increasingly unified Europe, a new generation is bringing back the customs that defined their childhoods, and those of their parents and grandparents.
A decade ago, Mr. Bierbaumer, 46, persuaded Munich authorities to stage an old-fashioned Krampuslauf: a spectacle in which the fearsome seasonal beasts run through rows of adorned wooden huts at the Bavarian capital’s oldest holiday market. He saw it as a way to ensure that future generations would share his childhood ritual, which takes place between late November and Dec. 23. At that point, similar beasts, known as Perchta, take over the fun until Epiphany.
The Munich Krampuslauf celebrates the history of the custom, including the artistry of the hand-carved, hand-painted masks. Advocates of the ritual say reviving it is important because American Christmas customs, which they see as more commercialized, have made their way into the German holiday.
Only old-fashioned Krampus, mixed with their cousins, the Perchta, are allowed to participate in the Munich runs, held on the second and third Sundays before Christmas. To join the run, they must be dressed in wooden masks with horns and goat or sheep pelts, and carry bells and switches — though only for show.
Upholding the seasonal ritual is of “absolute importance,” said Günter Tschinder from Lavanttal in Austria’s Carinthia region.
“This is a tradition that our great-grandparents were already doing that must be handed down to the next generation,” said Mr. Tschinder, a member of the Höfleiner Moorteufel from Carinthia, one of 27 groups that participated in Munich this year. “But properly handed down, as it was 40, 50, 60 years ago, not with a lot of commercialization, like from Hollywood films.”
This just makes me happy. Also, “Old Fashioned Krampus and The Perchtas” will be the name of my Scorpions tribute band. Merry Christmas, everybody.