Monday, December 22, 2014

Rauhnacht and Krampus!

We stumbled into something last Saturday night and have spent the last few days trying to understand what it was. We took a visiting friend to our local Christmas market at Forst Kasten, a large beer garden very near our house. It’s a lovely setting, surrounded by woods on all sides. We can walk there on a trail from our house, or drive a few minutes when it’s colder. We’ve been to the Christmas market there before; tented stalls, a live animal nativity scene, little fire pits. But last Saturday night was different.
It was rauhnacht. We saw a demon on a sign for the Christmas market. It was a bit of a disconnect but truth be told, many things here are for me.We got our pretzels and brats and gluhwein, and only then noticed a crowd ringed around an open space. We heard drums banging, bells clanging. We saw flashes of fire but it was too crowded to see much. Phil wandered off trying to see what was going on.
And what was the performance? Well….Adam seemed to know about it from German class. He definitely knew the name. Krampus, taken from the German word “krampen” or claw. Royce kept telling me she heard “hex”, the German word for witch. She saw a sign that said witches and goblins got into the event for free.The kids knew that the krampus was the bad guy who went along with St. Nicholas, scaring the kids into stopping their naughty ways. This was not just a little scary; this was way scary. Big men dressed in masks with bells and whips. A lot of good frightening energy that I would like to see at Halloween when there is nothing going on here!
Basically, rauhnacht is the night krampus  come out, scare people and take the bad people away. Krampus gangs were everywhere, in furry costumes, troll heads and flashing lots of teeth. Like street performers, each group got a few minutes on the stage. The other groups wandered around in the crowd. Apparently this is a Bavarian tradition but one that has roots in lots of European cultures. More widely known is the wild men (of similar costume) who come at New Year’s to scare away evil spirits from the year ahead.
While we were looking at nativity scenes, a group of beast men came along, their eyes glowing electrically red behind their masks. Phil and the twins moved in closer, with the idea that Phil would get a photo of the kids with a krampus. (note photo above sans twins).  Somehow, a krampus grabbed Royce during the photo shoot. He put her in a neck hold, rubbed something on her hair and started to drag her off. He whipped her (lightly) as she ran away, sobbing. We talked her down but she was done with rauhnacht. We crowded around her as we moved toward the car park. Sure enough, another krampus made eye contact with us, looked like he was going to approach us but diverted. We hustled to the car, locking ourselves in. Definitely  a frightening night for all, even adults escorting the scared child away!But we’ve seen a lot of good behavior since then. We’ve had diminishing returns on the “be good, Santa is watching” thing. The krampus might have more staying power, possibly even into the upcoming teenager years.


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