Santa is essentially a fairly straightforward kind of guy, keeping himself to himself for 364 days of the year (perhaps just dealing with all that pre-Christmas correspondence and checking his naughty and nice lists), then flying around the world on Christmas Eve distributing billions of presents.
For Austrians, though, there’s another Advent figure – there’s also Krampus, the evil counterpart to St Nicholas, who balances Santa’s presents for good girls and boys by handing out punishments to those who have been naughty. This all happens on the feast day of St Nicholas, 6 December.
What does this all mean if you happen to arrive in Austria during the three weeks before Christmas for a little early-season skiing? Well, along with all those fabulous Christmas markets, you may well run into Krampus. Large, foreboding, black-clad and with antlers on his head, he roams the streets on evenings around St Nicholas’ feast. He’s hard to miss.
Lots of ski resorts organise Krampus parades in the weeks leading up to 6 December, with the great Tiroler Zugspitz Arena organising one of the best. Krampus parades are exciting, fun events, with the scarily costumed marchers dressed to look something between a caveman, a Viking and a demon, often carrying whips or fiery torches to add to their edgy image.
The Spirit of Christmas During December in the Austrian Tirol
Whether or not you see Krampus, the Austrian Tirol is a very special place to be during the weeks running up to Christmas. This year there’s a special anniversary to celebrate too, 200 years since the hymn Silent Night was first composed in the area. The problem is deciding which resort to choose as each offers their special take on Christmas, and many offer Christmas markets of one type or another.
Innsbruck leads the world when it comes to Christmas markets with no less than six to choose from with a combined 200 stalls. There’s a 14m-tall Christmas tree full of sparkling and glittering crystals which continue from the famous Golden Roof in the centre to 300m above town at Hungerburg. There are lots of Christmas events too, and it all runs right through to 6 January 2019.
For something a little more intimate, the medieval settlement of Rattenberg, Austria’s smallest town, and part of the Alpbach ski area, is a very special place to be in the run-up to Christmas with Advent markets, lots of candles, warming fires and a truly special mulled wine made with elderberries and served in an original Rattenberg Advent glass.
On the four Advent Saturdays, Rattenberg is illuminated solely by candlelight, torchlight and open fires. Visitors are drawn to the town by the atmosphere that is created. Bathed in natural light Rattenberg evokes a feeling of warmth and security.
The St Johann Christmas Market taking place over weekends through December is another very special experience with everything from Christmas cookie baking and puppet theatres to gingerbread and mulled wine all set under the fantastic Christmas lights. The tiny market offers a unique shopping experience for visitors of all ages with its fair of various crafters, artists, gift shops and gastronomic surprises.
For more information: visittirol.co.uk
Featured Image © Tiro Werbung Lisa Hîrterer