Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Austria Around Christmas Time

Look people, meat, MEAT! Marvel at the sheer Germanic glory of it all!

So around Christmas around much of Europe Christmas markets start to pop up. They take the form of cute little cabins that pop up in squares and sell various things. In Germany they are called Weihnachtsmärkte (literally 'Christmas market'), but in Austria the are called Christkindlmärkte (literally 'Christ child markets,' which is misleading since they do not actually deal in the buying and resale of children). Now I hear you saying, 'But we have Christmas markets in America too! This is of no interest to me!' Well, I can give you one reason why European Christmas markets are infinitely better than their American equivalent: alcohol. Yes, because of a lack of open container laws and lack of a certain puritan fringe, European Christmas markets serve a plethora of alcoholic punches and malted wines. These are delicious and make Christmas markets a place of youth and activity into the late evening, reclaiming them from nick nack hunting grandmothers.

Another Austrian tradition are the Krampuses, who have their own 'runs':

Talking to Austrians about Krampuses is very amusing because it simultaneously evokes feeling of great joy and extreme terror. The basic myth is that demonic creatures come out before St. Nicholas comes at the beginning of December and punish those who have been misbehaving. In reality there are clubs that have the furry costumes and terrifying wooden masks (only the lower picture is a real crampus) and dress up as Krampuses and run around town intoxicated beating up pretty much who ever they feel like (called a 'Krampus run'). What is amazing to experience is the glee that is an Austrian's eye when he or she tells you about the Krampuses while at the same time seriously trying to convince you of the life threatening danger.

While I was in Veinna I got to see a rather sedate Krampuslauf outside of the city. The friend who took me and another American got us all worked up and fearing for our lives for what turned out to be the Disney version of the thing, no beating, no abduction, and the children seemed to be enjoying it. It was funny, and the guy in a giant demon squirrel costume summoning the Krampuses was apparently the mayor.

I was amused, but my Austrian friend, who had been telling us how horrible the things usually were, was deeply disappointed. Immediately after the thing she called her mom to tell her that in Vienna they didn't know how to do a proper Krampuslauf. Having conferred with her mother she established that what we had seen was a poor shadow of the Krampuslauf in her town, where the drunken Krampuses had attacked the police this year. Apparently that was the proper way of things. If a Krampus isn't life threatening he isn't any fun.

I like the Krampuses. I even wrote a poem for my German class about what I would do if I was one.

1 comment:

Barbarossa said...

From Edward (who apparently my blog hates):

The best piece in the 2006 Whitney Biennial was a video about the KRAMPAS!!! My old blog (fivebookofmoses) contained my review of it. What a fine, messed-up, frightening tradition. The way they go after pubertal girls and make them scream, it's like watching a re-enactment of id-ridden Vikings/Huns/Visigoths ransacking a village and quenching their lust on the local women. It was exciting and disturbing, plus a PUNK ROCK soundtrack to accompany the whole thing! Wow. Wow. Wow.