Krampus rally in Osttirol (East Tyrol) – Alpine winter demons

masked man in a Krampus rally in Lienz

In the distance we hear the metallic rattle of cow bells and voices. The dark road is lined by spectators shivering with expectation and cold, looking forward to the Krampus rally.

masked man in a Krampus rally in Lienz

Finally, a group of people walk down the hill – Saint Nicholas, the Holy Bishop, accompanied by a strange medley of other characters including angels as well as witches with scraggy hair, large hooked noses, and brooms. And then, behind them, the Krampuses come in sight. Dozens of wild hairy figures with scary faces and huge bells attached to their backs. They stomp down the road in a strange unified gait that makes the bells rattle. Sometimes they reach out to grab bystanders.

What is a Krampus?

The Krampus is an Alpine devilish creature whose origins are unknown but who appears at the beginning of winter to scare (and beat) the villagers. For centuries, Krampuses have accompanied St. Nicholas to provide the punishment for those who didn’t behave well and thus don’t deserve the presents the Saint is handing out especially to children. In some regions in Bavaria and Austria, Nicholas has not become Santa Claus, and his holy day is still 6 December – which is also the climax of the Krampus activities.

Krampus masks, Lienz

A Krampus rally in Lienz, East Tyrol

In Lienz, the main town of the little-known Austrian region of East Tyrol (formally a part of Tyrol but not geographically linked to the rest of that prefecture), anyone who wants to take part in the Krampus rally has to be a member of the Krampus Association. No women may participate, and the association guards tradition, determining which costumes and masks are appropriate. In contrast to some other Austrian towns, Krampuses in Lienz don’t have horns, and they don’t look inspired by Hollywood horror movies. On the other hand, the association has agreed to a fixed route for the parade and barriers behind which spectators can watch safely. A generation ago, early December was still a dangerous time to walk the streets of Lienz. “But nowadays we all have to work the next day, we can’t afford broken limbs…,” chief Krampus Kurt explains.

masked and unmasked man fighting

Once St. Nicholas is done with his round handing out sweets to the children behind the barriers. He disappears for a while and leaves the Krampuses less restrained. They run up and down with much clamour, and whoever dares to stand in their way (mostly young men) gets hurled down on the street. Running with their heavy fur clothes and the huge bells on their back that can weigh up to 15 kg, the Krampuses can gain enough momentum to wrestle down most opponents. According to etiquette, they help up each other afterwards and walk on. Security guards nowadays keep an eye on Krampuses as well as on their challengers.

children on a Krampus rally

Happy demons

After two hours Saint Nicholas, the angels, the witches and the Krampuses make their way into the old town, where the Krampus performers take off the masks and run around in circles for almost ten minutes. Most are utterly exhausted by now from running and fighting for several days. But they were also happy and proud to be holding up an old tradition. Kurt, the chief Krampus, still has a smile and some energy left. After all, he is also responsible for the smaller parade of St. Nicholas and the Krampus Children the next day, when Krampuses-in-training as young as three or four years walk in the scary heavy costumes through town.

Krampus masks, Lienz

How to see a Krampus rally

We found the Krampus rally a very authentic experience. In spite of the barriers, and in spite of knowing about the Krampuses being men dressed up in fur and masks, the sight and sound of dozens of them running in our direction was somewhat scary. We weren’t really afraid of anything happening. Still, when one of the beasts suddenly grabbed Natascha’s head over the barrier she freaked out for an instant. “Like it?” the monster then said in a friendly voice, and turned out to be Kurt.

So, if you visit a Krampus rally, try to befriend some locals beforehand who might take part and frighten you!

Our visit to the Krampus rally in Lienz / Eastern Tyrol was part of a research for a Tyrol guidebook and sponsored by Osttirol Tourism.

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13 Comments

  1. I have wanted to attend a Krampus parade for over 10 years and haven’t been able to make the schedule fit. I didn’t realize the costume weighs up to 15 kg or that training was involved! Sounds like a much bigger production than I imagined

    1. Dear Sherianne, I think it depends. There are places, where they use more modern halloween-like costumes. I guess these are more light-weight!

  2. I can certainly see why Krampus would scare the villagers and any visitors too. Hopefully I have behaved well enough through the year and won’t be a target for Krampus. I am sure the Krampus Rally in Osstirol was an interesting and unique experience.

  3. That does look scary. Maybe it’s the line between good and evil that makes this an interesting rally. But I would have mixed emotions and reactions to it, I wonder if I would really like to see it for long. Maybe just a couple of minutes.

    1. Dear Ambica, it is an old tradition. Many of the people attending know anyway who is behind the masks. So for them it is much less scary than for the visitors from outside. The Krampusses are organized in a club, and there is a kids club as well. The kids do have their own parade!

  4. Wow I have never been on a parade like this. This would surely be freaky and exciting and I would love to visit it someday. Also, its amazing to learn about Krampus. I never knew about these daemons. I am surely adding this to my list.

  5. Krampus rally looks spooky and exciting! I would love to attend such a rally and look at the Halloween like costumes worn by Krampuses. It’s nice to see how people maintain old traditions.

  6. WOAH…getting assaulted by a creature! Now that sounds a little scary. Though it was fun reading about the Krampuses and the ongoing tradition. I definitely am up for seeing what this is like.

  7. This is interesting. It’s actually my first time to hear about the Krampus. I had no idea that it’s connected to St. Nicholas. Thank you for sharing this. Learned something new today and yes, they’re scary.

  8. Though scary I wouldn’t mind spending some time watching the parade. I was good to learn about Krampus which I had no idea about. It would be lot of fun during the snowy months.

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