>Late this afternoon a horde of hairy, rude devils appeared on the square across from my apartment; the Krampus, a monster with giant cowbells on his back and a whip in his hand, is supposed to show up on December 5th to chase out the winter spirits and make room for the arrival of St. Nikolaus (whose day is December 6.) If you’ve been a naughty child, you don’t get a lump of coal, you get a switching (read: empty threat.) The guys that showed up in costume this year were pretty well-behaved, and there by invitation, which is why they came 5 days early.
By the middle of next week, I won’t be able to walk home late in the evening without hearing those cowbells, usually heralding some teenager out to scare little kids and impress the girls. I only got switched once, and that was when I was a young, pretty thing (it still pissed me off!) Mostly the younger kids try to get a rise out of the Krampus and get away without getting whipped.
On the night of the 5th, children are instructed to leave their boots out, much as American children hang up their stockings on Christmas Eve, so that St. Nikolaus will fill them with chocolates, nuts, oranges and gingerbread. I like this tradition, as it takes some of the edge off of Christmas and gives the kids motivation to behave well.
Tirol (as well as the rest of Austria) is fighting to keep its old traditions alive; films, songs and the tv introduce children to Santa Claus, with his eight reindeer plus Rudolph, and the Big Day (December 25th.) In Austria one lights the candles on the tree on the evening of the 24th, and the Christkind brings the presents. But the shops now all carry Santa hats, and play popular American Christmas songs, and Tiroleans feel their heritage is being threatened. You can see globalization at work right here in the Altstadt.
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